Take one traditional nativity story. Swap Bethlehem for San Francisco, add two parts devil and henchman, one choir, a dash of Latin rhythm, and top with one piñata. Let the mixture mature, then enjoy one saucy, political holiday performance called La Posarela (a mashup of la posada and la pastorela, both traditional nativity stories).
Both script writer Carlos Barón, who plays the Devil, and director Marta Rodríguez-Salazar referred to the production of the Posarela in cooking terms: There’s a process, they said, but it takes some finesse to make it turn out right.
“I just put it together, I’m the cook,” said Rodríguez-Salazar. “It’s about creating a good recipe where everyone feels like they’re bringing something important.”
“This kind of thing is like making a souffle,” Barón. “It’s a delicate process…something is not going right and it gets, eh, it gets deflated.”
At a Tuesday night rehearsal, like at any other rehearsal, things deflated occasionally. Cues were missed, singers forgot the words, and actors mumbled into their collars or turned their backs on the audience. (“That’s not a nice looking butt!” Barón chastised the three kings when the turned their backs on the ‘audience’). But the rehearsal space at the Community Music Center shook with music and energy, and the joy was genuine.
“I grew up in San Diego, in a time where Christmas was celebrated in public schools. One of my earliest memories is of a posada,” said choir member Jessica Anderson. “It’s the traditional story, but told through the lens of living in the world today.”
For all the classic ingredients, the show is anything but traditional. It’s peppered with references to local politics: Maria and José are rejected at door after door where they seek shelter, accused of being illegal immigrants hoping to drop an “anchor baby,” and feel misled about the nature of San Francisco as a “sanctuary city.” Ultimately, the two end up finding a cot at a homeless shelter.
“We know you didn’t fly here,” the devil accuses Maria and José, and teases them about the existence of a border wall. “We know about the wall,” Maria answers, “José helped build it!”
“This way, it has a little bit of relevance to now,” said Colin Davis, who plays a sort of mini-devil henchman to Barón’s boss devil. He’s a circus performer now, but grew up in the neighborhood. “We don’t make it easy for people to live here,” Davis added.
“It’s a social and political commentary about our community,” Rodríguez-Salazar said.
But it’s all in good fun.
“It is a heavy play, but with lots of jokes. And what the devil says makes you think,” Barón said.
Almost all of the performers are brought together by the Community Music Center. From its young actors to its senior choir, all ages are represented among those onstage.
“It’s a wonderful outpouring of community effort…You don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy it,” choir singer Anderson said. “You’ll leave smiling.”
La Posarela plays at the Brava Theater Friday, Dec. 4 at 7 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 5 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets available here.