Since 2002, the Herberger's Lunch Time Theater program has been a place for emerging companies and artists to stretch their wings and give downtowners a mental mini-break in the work week. Every season, several quite different troupes present a short play for two or three weeks each.
Writers, in particular, enjoy the opportunity to try out new scripts in a relatively friendly, low-budget environment. The current Lunch Time production, New Carpa Theater's A Boy Named César, is a work in progress, a play for young audiences by James E. Garcia (the company's producing artistic director) and Julie Amparano. New Carpa hopes that the show can tour to schools in the future.
(Full disclosure: I performed in three plays for New Carpa in 2008 and costumed their 18-character holiday show, so I'm still pretty tight with some of those folks at the moment. I've also worked on Lunch Time productions from the get-go, for a number of individual companies.)
A Boy Named César begins on the Yuma farm where civil rights and labor leader César Chavez lived with his family until he was 10 years old, when they were evicted and became migrant workers. Before la familia Chavez hits the road, young César fetches water from the well and encounters the spirit of his recently deceased grandfather who, in a sort of reverse A Christmas Carol, relieves the boy's anxieties about what life holds for him by showing him scenes from the years to come.
Numerous short scenes keep the story moving and enable the introduction of new characters, settings, and time frames. The playwriting team has done a good job creating dialogue that can be naturally and believably delivered by the actor who plays César as both a child and an adult. This convention also underscores the idea that people who perform courageous acts are often uncertain and frightened underneath.
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As the script continues to develop, I hope to see the character of the grandfather rounded out a bit more. Whenever there's a supernatural being on stage, whether it's a ghost, genie, muse, or what have you, I like hearing a little bit about what it's like to be a supernatural being -- what it does or doesn't have in common with our experience as mortals on Earth, etc. And I'm not sure how comfortable schools will be with a character who shows up and basically says, "Hi, kid, I'm your dead grandpa. Come with me" -- especially in a story that's based on historic events. So further rewrites might help with that, too.
A Boy Named César plays at 12:10 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, March 25 and 26, at the Performance Outreach Theater on the Van Buren side of the Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe Street. These last two performances are currently sold out, but if you're in the neighborhood, a few tickets ($6) do sometimes become available shortly before curtain.
New Carpa Theater has scheduled two outdoor evening performances of A Boy Named César on Friday, April 3, and Sunday, April 5, in the courtyard behind Cuervo Studio and Gallery, 1505 East Thomas Road. For more details or to order tickets, $3 to $6, click here or call Garcia at 602-460-1374,
FYI, beginning in June after their next two productions, Lunch Time Theater is taking a summer break for remodeling at the Herberger. Performances will resume in September.