A powerful, engaging, scintillating work of Folklore Theatre, Yemaya’s Belly finds the intersection between the literal and fanciful. Jesus is a boy who likes to play dominoes with his Uncle Jelin and his buddy, Tico. He picks up essential guy stuff from them. How to drink, bluff, swagger, treat the ladies. Do what’s right. He probably sees himself as a small man, learning to make his maleness actual in a tough world. Jesus lives in the small village of Magdalena, not too far from the jazzy, lurid city with its temptations and transgressions. His father runs a farm, and his mother sends Jesus out every day to bring dad his coffee, and respite from arduous labor. Jesus visits the city with his Uncle and a shop that sells groceries like Coca-Cola, SPAM and coconuts. When a sudden, devastating fire breaks out in Magdalena (before Jesus and Jeli could even try to rescue them) the parents are gone. Overcome with rage, disgust and despair, Jesus resolves to book passage on a raft with Maya, bound for Amerika.
Written by Quiara Alegria Hudes (who collaborated with Lin-Manuel Miranda on In the Heights) Yemaya’s Belly unlocks mysteries by teasing us with dreamlike, intuitive imagery. Naivete and awe take us to a realm where linear logic has no answers and holds no comfort. Folklore is a kind of special enchantment. It transforms ugliness into poetry and adventure. Perhaps something sacred. Once we release our grip, and look beyond face value, merciful truths emerge. An intoxicating, alluring (priestess?) dances hypnotically for Jelin and Jesus, producing a single feather. Jesus nicks it from her impulsively and from then on, it becomes infinitely more than its material presence. People sense its exceptional value, though it doesn’t look unique. As Hudes pulls us deeper and deeper into this melancholy (yet exhilarating) story of a traumatized lad who summons the moxie to sail to America on a raft, we know it’s ridiculous, but we also know he must.
In addition to its rich, astonishing blend of sensual and metaphysical metaphors, Yemaya’s Belly never conceals political allegory. No longer does the right honor our crucial role as a haven for the downtrodden, the desperate, the diligent. Jesus believes America brims with possibilities. That he will be welcome, because he is good-hearted and seeks an end to suffering. So many have cherished America as the land of fresh beginnings. When small icons of American pop culture find their way to the third world, they must feel other-worldly and miraculous. Talismanic. Hudes connects us to Jesus by our mutual need for something beyond constant despair and disappointment. Adrift on their raft. Starving and unquenched for days. Jesus and Maya begin to hallucinate. When Maya believes she glimpses the green shore in distance, your heart thunders.
Cara Mia Theatre presents Yemaya’s Belly playing March 4th-19th, 2017. (Dallas Premiere) 2600 Live Oak Street, Dallas, Texas 75204. 214-516-0706. www.caramiatheatre.org