Feliz Navidad! UN VIAJE: A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY at Kensington’s Walking Fish Theatre

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UN VIAJE---A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY is running at Walking Fish Theatre in Kensington (Philadelphia), PA through December 30. (Photo courtesy of B. Someday Productions at Walking Fish Theatre)

UN VIAJE: A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY is not the ideal theater show for a childless thirty-something, which I am, but the kids on opening night certainly loved it. More Christmas variety show than plot-based play, the disjointed narrative is interrupted for holiday singalongs and ends in a joyous chaos of music and dancing.

The story is simple and the fun level is high, but UN VIAJE is also a cultural exploration: the dialogue is bilingual English and (mostly translated) Spanish and the “Christmas journey” is an explanation of the Los Tres Magos (the day of the three kings), an Hispanic holiday celebration. UN VIAJE is the seasonal offering by the Walking Fish Theatre in Kensington, an area of Philadelphia with a large Spanish-speaking population, and so the playhouse must be praised for its inclusive outreach efforts.

The plot, such as it is, follows a Latina mother (Anjoli Santiago) and her two Americanized children (Ansil Guzman and James Gribling, students at Walking Fish’s academy) as they return to an unnamed Latin American country to celebrate Christmas with their Spanish-speaking grandmother (Victor Rodriguez, in drag). But the production springs to life when this narrative is set aside, soon after it is established, and the singing begins. Several skits follow, most with high levels of audience interaction: Santa (also Rodriguez) has a uncomfortably strange existential crisis; the grandmother tells the story of three kings.

There’s not too much for grownups in the production, but you do share in learning some interesting things: Los Tres Magos is basically the familiar Christmas tale of the magi, with some details expounded and an excited focus on the gift-giving. It’s celebrated on January 6th, the twelfth day of Christmas. Oh, and burrito means “little donkey” in Spanish (Burro plus the diminutive “-ito”.How come I never realized that?) The presentation is necessarily dumbed down, though some of the characters’ cultural ignorance feels overly contrived.

There are better children’s shows in Philadelphia and there have been better bilingual productions (Santiago featured in one of them last season: Amarylis’s LYDIA), but it’s a good combination. Kids seem to take the language back-and-forth in stride. And while the production was too confused to satisfy me, the intended audience was thoroughly content.

Directed by Michelle Pauls
B. Someday Productions at Walking Fish Theatre
2509 Frankford Ave
(Kensington), Philadelphia
Through December 30, 2011