COCHISE COUNTY RANCHER Roger Barnett may have appeared in a Christmas pageant sometime in his past, but A Tucson Pastorela undoubtedly marks the first time he's become a character in a play.
In real life the armed rancher apprehends desperate Latino migrants who walk across his land on their way to taking America's lowest-paying jobs. In Borderland Theatre's latest rendition of its annual Christmas play, Barnett comes to fictional life as a devil (granted, it's not much of a stretch). The Pastorela, part of a Mexican folk tradition now almost 500 years old, recounts the shepherds' difficult journey to Bethlehem. Devils led by Lucifer use all their wiles--appearing this year as Barnett or as Charlton Heston--to try to stop them, but Archangel Miguel (Annabelle Nuñez) and his angel team repeatedly swoop in to set the shepherds back on their appointed path.
The encounter between Barnett, played with gusto by Albert Soto, and the desperate of the earth may be the play's most moving moment. When the shepherds metamorphose into the migrants crossing Arizona's deserts, suddenly the true meaning of Christmas comes home with a jolt. This scene is typical of this production's easy way with profound truths. Rewritten by Max Branscomb every year to remain topical--ballot-counting jokes abound--A Tucson Pastorela is by turns raucous and eloquent. Lovely Mexican carols and live waila music mix with Branscomb's hilarious rhyming couplets, all performed by a cast of more than two dozen pros and amateurs. It's funny and fun, sentimental and serious, and easily the most authentic piece of theater to grace Tucson stages every December.
A Tucson Pastorela continues the next two weeks at the Black Box Theatre at Pima College, 2202 W. Anklam Road. This weekend's shows are at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. From Tuesday, December 19 though Friday, December 22, shows begin nightly at 7. After every performance children are invited to join in a piñata party. Tickets are $8 to $12, and they're available at Antigone Books, at the box office and at Borderlands at 882-7406.
Lots more holiday plays are filling up stages all over town. Here's a quick roundup:
THIS WEEKEND ONLY: Two theatre troupes are delivering treats suitable even for the tiniest tots. The city Parks and Rec's group, Tucson Community Theatre, puts on The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. The comedy details the travails of a church Christmas pageant whose cast is made up of the Herman children, the "most awful kids in history." Kiddies who've been practicing their best behavior for Santa ought to be able to teach the outré Hermans a thing or two. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, at the Randolph Art Center Auditorium, 200 S. Alvernon Way. Good news for strapped parents: Admission is free. For info call 791-4663.
The Arizona Rose Theatre stages Another Magical Christmas, a musical about the Collins family, whose holiday cabin unexpectedly gets taken over by Santa and his toy-making crew. After the play, kids can meet the Clauses and their elves on stage and get their pictures taken. The show goes on at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, at the Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd. Tickets, available at Ticketmaster (321-1000), are $19 for adults, $10 for children 10 and under. Donations of clothing, diapers and food are encouraged. For more info call 888-0509.
THIS WEEKEND AND NEXT: Westward Ho! Ho! Ho! is, not surprisingly, a cowboy-themed holiday show at the Hidden Valley Inn, 4825 N. Sabino Canyon Road. It's Christmas Eve, 1860, and little Hannah, resident in Territorial Tucson, frets that Santa has not received her letter. Enter the Pony Express. The Crystal Palace Players sing and dance to the live music of the Crystal Palace Band. Shows continue most evenings at 7 p.m. from Saturday, December 16, through Christmas Eve. Matinees are December 17 at 3 p.m. and December 24 at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $13.95 for adults, $8.95 for kids 12 and under. Arrive early to order meals, which cost extra. For reservations call 299-4941.
The New Kiva Motions Puppet Theatre delivers the timely tale Ready for Christmas! this Sunday and next, December 24, at 1:30 p.m. at the Red Barn Theater, 948 N. Main Ave. An elderly couple, played by the handmade puppets of Barbara Mocking, is having a problem getting ready for the big day. Tickets are $3; two kids can get in for $5. Call 887-5144.
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues is not your usual family holiday entertainment. Restricted to ages 18 and up, Monologues is presented by the proudly queer Green Thursday Theatre Project. The comic monologues about Santa's sexcapades veer from the nice into the naughty. Shows are at 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, December 14 through 16 and 21 through 23, at the Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Tickets are $10, with $2 off for seniors and students. Call 622-8848 for info.
RUNNING THROUGH CHRISTMAS AND BEYOND: The Gaslight Theatre turns to the perennial classic A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens for its annual holiday show. The audience boos the villain, sheds a tear for Tiny Tim and cheers on the triumph of virtue, when old Scrooge realizes the true meaning of Christmas. Plenty of music is played by the live band. Gaslight's at 7010 E. Broadway; shows run nearly every night through Saturday, January 6. Matinees are at 3 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $13.95, $11.95 and $6. For tickets call 886-9428.