La Llorona is a Latino folktale about a ghost that wanders around looking for the children she drowned in a river when she was alive.
It's a tale that will be in the Phoenix Theatre's family-friendly premiere production of Leyenda. The script, written by Bryan Fonseca and Tom Horan, is based on interviews with members of Indy's Hispanic community and everyone they interviewed knew this particular story. (Leyenda is Spanish for "legend.")
"Everybody knew it to the extent that some people said, 'Oh you don't want to tell that story because everybody knows it,'" says Fonseca, artistic director of the Phoenix, who is directing Leyenda.
But include it they did.
"It's been so enjoyable and rewarding as an artist, making this story come to life onstage," says Fonseca.
But not every folk tale they featured in this tapestry — woven together with dance and music and other ways of storytelling — is so dire.
"On the other end of the spectrum is a very lighthearted story and it's a cautionary story as all folk tales are," says Fonseca. "It's called 'Dueño de la Casa' [Master of the House]. This one's really about young girls at a dance and a newcomer to the dance being warned not to stay past midnight and definitely not to dance with this one particular individual. At midnight this young girl is dancing with this young man. And the clock starts striking midnight. And he looks down and he has chicken feet."
The production will feature bilingual actors. Performances will be in English (save for the music) except for the final two performances which will be performed entirely in Spanish.
Directing a play in two languages comes with its own peculiar challenges, but it just so happens that director Bryan Fonseca is a Spanish speaker himself (the problem is that he doesn't speak it every day, he says). But the Phoenix has done plays in Spanish before, notably last year's Bless Me Ultima.
Bridgette Richards, a veteran of a number of Spanish-language productions, acted as translator.
"It's a privilege to come in and try to turn Tom's words into Spanish when they're so beautifully written in English" says Richards.
Richards is also one of the main performers.
"I play the role the storyteller role 'Quentista,'" says Richards. "Her role is to set up all these wonderful stories that we hear as audience members. Her story is interwoven throughout the different tales. She gets to know this man who becomes her husband. She woos him through telling all of these different folk tales. I'm playing and I'm playing some great colorful characters inside the stories themselves."
But there is a larger role for this play than merely to entertain.
"I received a grant from the Arts Council of Indianapolis," says Fonseca. "It's the first ever Transformational Impact Grant. And the purpose of that grant was to see if the arts could be used to help transform a community."
In order to fulfill that mission, Phoenix Theatre will be taking Leyenda to the near Westside of Indianapolis — an area of the city with a large Hispanic presence. They will be gearing up a cut-down selection of Leyenda tales — a third of the length of the theatre version.
"Language is the first barrier that we break down by doing performances in Spanish," says Fonseca. "The [second] of the barriers that we're going to break down is taking the play...out of the theatre and going into the community. So if transportation was a barrier, if cost was a barrier, we're going to eliminate those barriers as well..."
April 14 – May 1
Phoenix Theatre, 749 N. Park Ave