By LAURA HUMBLE – STAFF WRITER
Sometimes we all need a little reminder of the power of imagination and storytelling. That is exactly what DramaCentre’s production of Roxanne Schroeder-Arce’s Señora Tortuga provided.
Señora Tortuga follows the story of an impoverished family who lives in the United States on the Mexican border struggling to survive life’s day-to-day realities while remaining together as a cohesive, loving whole.
Tension rises between Leticia, played by sophomore Shruti Shankar-Ram, and her son Pedro, played by sophomore Sean Fannin, when Pedro would rather have fun and live the easy life than finish his chores and complete his homework.
This all changes when a mysterious stranger, Beatriz Tortuga, played by senior Ali Gautier, appears at the family’s home and tells them magical stories full of lessons of embracing one’s imagination, transporting them to a happier world.
Director and Adjunct Professor of Dramatic Arts Jane Dewey made this production a transporting experience for the audience as well.
“This production breathes spectacle with lighting effects, puppets, live music, and choreographed movement. As with most productions, we hope that our audiences find it entertaining while also provoking thoughtfulness and reflection,” Dewey said.
The lighting was the most striking aspect of this production. Lighting Designer and Chair of the Dramatic Arts Program Matthew Hallock used an ambitious, whimsical color scheme that spilled over the stage and into the audience. At the opening of the play, a green turtle swept across the audience, ushering them into the world unfolding before them.
Live music also made this play unique. A musical ensemble consisting of five Centre students who remained on stage for the entirety of the play produced alternately playful and thoughtful musical pieces to help convey both the lighthearted and reflective moments throughout the production.
Dewey also made equal use of verbal and nonverbal choreographed movements in her adaptation.
“I especially loved working with speaking and non-speaking roles and getting to explore nonverbal communication,” Gautier said. Gautier as Señora Tortuga told stories to the children as actors performed them behind her.
Gautier’s performance was mesmerizing as the mysterious titular character.
“I play Beatriz Tortuga—they call her Señora Tortuga—she is very eccentric and friendly and bubbly which is in part due to her love of interaction and telling stories and making people’s lives better and also not really being human, so she doesn’t get a lot the typical social cues,” Gautier said. Gautier brought a lot of her trademark humor to the role, making her a warm and inviting stage presence.
Señora Tortuga is a piece of children’s theatre, making it all the more appropriate as a Family Weekend production.
“When I learned that DramaCentre was considering a Theatre for Young Audiences piece as part of their season, I suggested exploring the possibility of a bilingual Spanish/English play that would be appropriate for elementary school students.” Dewey said. “The Danville Elementary School District began expanding its Spanish program into the elementary schools several years ago and last year all three elementary schools received World Language and Arts grants to integrate Spanish language and culture with the arts. This particular theatre piece seemed like a perfect fit and the collaboration between Centre College and the Danville Independnt School District on this production grew from that.”
A bilingual play was a unique choice from Centre’s typical productions. However, the use of Spanish within the play seemed awkward in some cases, and some of the actors’ grasp of the language and its pronunciation fell short.
Regardless, these cross-cultural elements introduced themes like immigration through the genre of magical realism for the audience’s consideration.
“While it may seem cliché to say there’s something for everyone, I do hope that all audiences members find an entry point into the show, whether it’s through the variety of performance pieces melding together, through the family relationships, through the power of storytelling, through the music and dance, or through the worlds created by the scenery, lighting, costumes, sound, and music,” Dewey said.
Gautier also appreciated the children’s aspect of the show. “Performing for children is literally my favorite thing. They are my biggest fans and I am their biggest fan,” Gautier said.
“I think it bridged the gap between the world of folk tales and the real world in the play and the worlds of children and adults very well. It mixed them all together in a fantastic way,” senior Mariel Plummer said.
With the overall success of Señora Tortuga, perhaps DramaCentre should consider producing more children’s theatre. This Family Weekend play was a magical, imaginative piece, and something that the whole family could enjoy.