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Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 4:09 am | Fair 39º


Review: City at Peace Goes Out on a Limb with ‘When the Bough Breaks’

Student performers take a different approach to portraying stories of their peers

A bowler hat, a white face and an umbrella aren’t perhaps what one expects to see in a homegrown production based on local teens’ stories about their day-to-day challenges in life. And yet, the antics of two old-style clown-muses in When the Bough Breaks were the perfect framing device for Thursday’s heartfelt evening of theater by City at Peace at Center Stage Theater.

For 16 years, the City at Peace program has been providing a safe space for young people in the community to share their stories with one another. Then, over the course of several months, with the guidance of adult facilitators, they shape these into full-length theater productions each year. Wisely, the participating teens don’t play themselves, but cast one another to dramatize their tales.

When the Bough Breaks departs a bit from City at Peace’s usual process of stringing together a loose plot structure from the stories shared. When the teens bared their souls at the annual retreat last February, the participants found the common theme of “family,” but no natural storyline emerged. So the decision was made to create a mosaic of vignettes within the theme, stewarded by the clown characters, Waldo Damaso Figueroa, 18, and Valerie DeMangeon, 19.

Figueroa has a clear gift for pantomime and physical comedy, and seems far beyond his years in the wisdom and maturity necessary for this art form. His expressions and small gestures speak volumes. In his baggy dark suit, bowler hat and white face, he blends elements of Marcel Marceau with Charlie Chaplin. He also created the art used on the poster and program.

DeMangeon wears a purple tutu and an engaging smile, playing off her partner with grace and charm. A bit involving a long-stemmed flower and an audience member is particularly memorable. In some vignettes with the other teens, the two stand in as parent figures and in others they bear silent witness.

Another strong presence is Destiney Pastor as a wandering gypsy poet figure, manifesting darker elements of life as well as an optimistic vision of “our world,” where peace and freedom reign.

Five-year-old Jesus Delgado, brother of performers Ana and Andrea, nearly steals the show, and it is clear that talent runs in the family.

These performers are not trained actors and singers. They are young people portraying the stories of their peers’ lives — lives that include accidental pregnancy, drug use and families split by divorce, estrangement and trauma. The tenderness, compassion and courage with which they take on one another’s pain and bring it to the light of the stage is impressive and inspiring.

Founded and directed for many years by Nancy Davis, City at Peace is now led by producer Karena Jew and director Joseph Velasco and is in its third year as an official nonprofit organization. Poet Sojourner Kincaid Rolle assists with lyrics. John Douglas is music director/composer and writes lyrics, as well as playing keyboards and drum machine, and his daughter Fernanda Douglas provides vocals and instrumentation. Matt Tavianini of Boxtales is movement coach.

The beautiful “family tree” set piece was built and wonderfully lit by Chris Turner, and rumor has it that this artful arboreal may appear again in the Summer Solstice parade next month.

Thursday evening’s preview show was free to students and featured a question-and-answer session afterward with the cast and director. When the Bough Breaks continues at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m.

— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.

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