Thursday, September 3, 2015

Review: Un Viaje: Disordered, incoherent kids show

Wendy Rosenfield reviews Un Viaje: (Walking Fish), a bilingual kids' holiday show with attention deficit disorderliness of Sabado Gigante, but less coherent.

Review: Un Viaje: Disordered, incoherent kids show

Gallery: Review: Un Viaje: Disordered, incoherent kids show

By Wendy Rosenfield

For the Inquirer


As someone who neither speaks Spanish nor celebrates Christmas, I’m probably a tough sell for Walking Fish Theatre’s Un Viaje: A Christmas Journey. But as a parent looking to expand my children’s cultural horizons, I’m also probably an ideal audience. The company should be commended for trying to integrate bilingual programming into its children’s theater slate. Philly has a large Latino population in general, and Fishtown in particular, so it’s a great way to get the whole neighborhood invested in supporting local theater.

Un Viaje, written by Walking Fish artistic director Michelle Pauls and actors Victor Rodriguez and Anjoli Santiago, has undeniable moments of delight, with plenty of opportunity for little ones to sing along or hop onstage to get their wiggle on.

But while its premise has promise — newly divorced Marisa (Santiago) has neglected her cultural traditions and brings her kids to spend Christmas with their Spanish-speaking abuela, or grandmother, (Rodriguez, in drag) in Latin America — its execution is lacking.

The whole show, clocking in just under an hour, has all the frenetic pacing and attention deficit disorderliness of Sabado Gigante, Univision’s much-spoofed variety show. Maybe more.

Carlos and Luisa (Walking Fish theater students James Gribling and Ansil Guzman) try to behave like normal adolescents. But between Santiago and Rodriguez’ bizarre skits — one inexplicably turns Santiago into Rudolph, and Rodriguez into what appears to be a beardless Santa with a hangover — the message is mostly buried.

The production culminates in a truly confusing, often-sidetracked explanation of Three Kings Day (a variation on the story of the gifts of the three magi).

Pauls directs, and she tries, really hard, to break the confusion into coherent segments. It’s just that this script contains so many diversions and barely credible assertions (We’re supposed to believe that, despite celebrating Christmas her entire life, Marisa has never heard of frankincense or myrrh) coherence can’t help but cede the floor to mayhem. During one jarringly solemn shift in tone, after a mad dash through the audience to locate the kings’ gifts, a young English-speaking audience member turned to his friend and stage-whispered, “Por que?”

I’m not sure, either, kid. The opening night crowd joined in when asked, and certainly, Santiago and Rodriguez appeared to have a good time.

I learned that Three Kings Day involves roasting a pig in the backyard, and that “burrito” means “little donkey.” So that’s something.

But considering the amount of high-quality children’s theater in this area, and the niche Walking Fish hopes to develop, it would have been nice if everyone tried just a little harder to get it right.


Un Viaje

Playing at: Walking Fish Theatre, 2509 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia. Through Friday, Dec. 30. Tickets: $6 to $12. Information: 215-427-9255 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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