By Susan Dunn
Luis Alfaro exposes our strengths and weaknesses in a climate-changing world with The Travelers at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco’s Fort Mason arts complex.
Five ordinary men appear on a candle-lit stage and start to strip down. Provocative, right? But soon they are covered by cassocks of the Carthusian Order of Catholic brothers. Before we can get to know these individuals, a stranger staggers into their monastery and collapses in a mound of dirt, bleeding from a chest wound.
Excellence abounds in Catherine Castellanos’s direction…
Luckily, the wound did not pierce his heart, but Alfaro’s play is all about heart and the ways we find to mend so many that are broken by circumstance.
But where are we?
We are in Grangeville, CA, a semi-abandoned town of now only 49 in the Central Valley. Drought has forced people from their occupations, many from working the fields. They either leave town or find places of succor such as the old monastery, which is still supported by the Archdiocese.
Important back-wall projections herald each change of scene, such as “Transformation,” helping us understand why the men shed their clothes and enter the seminary. They are desperate and leaving their former lives behind. The captivating set is mostly dirt floor, candles, and ceiling candelabras. The lights create a hierarchy: memorial candles set in the small dirt piles on the floor are for the commoners who worship there, and the multitude of brass candelabras overhead, to which the brothers often visually appeal, sway and flicker as the support from the Archdiocese gives hope and then peters out.
In Alfaro’s inimitable style, we learn the stories and personalities of these brothers, and their new recruit, Juan, who has so dramatically joined the order with a bullet wound and street-trash vocabulary – a most unlikely student for this seminary run by Brother Brian. And Juan in turn unmasks the mystery of the man who lives in the bathtub without a cassock, brother Ogie. Each brother has a backstory of loss: of family, of nurture, of education. They profess a bond with church and God just as long as the tenuous support of the church sustains. When that door closes on them, they become again travelers to parts unknown.
And in “Seminary,” only one heart is lifted.
This play is a full meal with much to absorb and digest later. Excellence abounds in Catherine Castellanos’s direction of so many quirky characters and scenes, casting of spot-on actors and clear rendering of script. Although some disjointed elements of this play may leave viewers scratching their heads, I dare you not to marvel at its humanity and scope.
Since arriving in California from New York in 1991, Susan Dunn has been on the executive boards of Hillbarn Theatre, Altarena Playhouse, Berkeley Playhouse, Virago Theatre and Island City Opera, where she is a development director and stage manager.
An enthusiastic advocate for new productions and local playwrights, she is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, and a recipient of a 2015 Alameda County Arts Leadership Award. Contact: email@example.com
|Written by||Luis Alfaro|
|Directed by||Catherine Castellanos|
|Producing Company||Magic Theatre|
|Production Dates||Thru March 5th, 2023|
|Production Address||Magic Theatre Ft. Mason Center, Bldg D 2 Marina Blvd. San Francisco, CA.|
|Tickets||$20 – $70|
|Reviewer Score||Max in each category is 5/5|
|Aisle Seat Review PICK!||YES!|