Good at Being Bad

Satan and Moloch just got laid off. Times are so economically splattered, even Lucifer’s minions are getting pink-slipped. Okay, sure, devil-work — tempting sinners and terrorizing saints — wears a mite thin after a millennium or twain. But at least it’s a paying gig, right? And in this day and age, those are fewer and farther between.

But wait: heaven’s talking about expansion. The Lord wants to send his Son to Earth. But isn’t that Lucifer’s domain? And if Mr. L. decides to rise from the sulphurous pits to combat the intrusion, won’t he need backup? You bet he will! And the boys’ll have gainful employment! One problem: Lucifer’s ego always exceeds his grasp. And Satan and Moloch know you do not mess with the Man Upstairs. But, at least they’ll have gainful employment — c’mon, let’s think positive here! — even if the benefits feel like eternal damnation.

Now in its 20th annual staging, Teatro Máscara Mágica’s holiday show, La Pastorela, has an amazing knack to bloom anew. Max Branscomb rewrites it each year in rhyming verse. Along with being consistently funny, the script offers a year in review — in particular, a critique of the forces blocking the path of progress. Among this year’s jibes: Satan (who is “good at being bad”) backed the Tea Party until it became “like Laurel and Hardy.”

The story begins today. Irasema Paz and her boyfriend were scholarship students at San Diego State. But “La Migra” (immigration officials) deported him and broke her heart. A gleaming angelic visitation stuns her. She wakes up somewhere in the Holy Land, over 2000 years ago. At first she doesn’t know where she is — but is impressed with everyone’s “retro” look. She joins a band of shepherds on their way to Bethlehem to witness a birth. Lucifer, Satan, and Moloch plot to turn the group toward evil with a series of temptations.

Lucifer (multitalented Joey Molina) assumes various guises: conservative commentator Glen Beck; Jan Brewer, governor of Arizona, to whom anyone “with brown eyes is suspicious.” The angel Michael (Willie Green, himself a holiday tradition in the role) adopts counterguises to thwart Lucifer and save the day. When the evil ones become the band Kiss, for example, they urge the shepherds to “rock and roll all night.” Instead of moving forward, the pastors “fall for cheap theatrics from an act that’s nearly geriatric,” and start to party hearty. Who, pray, can stop them?

Easy. Bob Marley (Green) shaking his reggae locks and singing “Stand Up for Your Rights.” He bounces across the stage and into the audience, and, next thing you know, everyone’s standing, clapping hands on high, singing full-voiced, and — irie ites! — blasting Lucifer out the door.

Backed by a live band (music director Connor McQueen plays a mean guitar), and directed with trademark flare by Bill Virchis, the bilingual production creates a bridge between Spanish and English, practically a third language, accessible to both. This year’s staging adds big sound effects by Dave Rivas and bold, uncredited lighting — especially devilish reds that bake the dudes from down below.

The show has become a romp for the regulars, some of whom have performed it for years. Rhys Greene and Dave Rivas, as Moloch and Satan, have worked out intricate, often hilarious bits. Edwin Ortiz, as Archangel Gabriel, Melissa Hamilton, as naysayer Menga, and a large and loyal group communicate, above all else, the joy of doing this show.

The San Diego Theater Critics Circle hosts its ninth annual awards ceremony on January 10, 2011, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla. Starts at six. Admission is free. Reservations and a list of nominees for 29 Craig Noel Awards are on the group’s website: sdcriticscircle.org.

As part of the ceremony, the Circle will award the first Sandra Ellis-Troy Memorial Scholarship, named for one of local theater’s most beloved actors, who passed away on December 4. She was 68.

Sandy wasn’t larger than life, but at times she came as close as people get. She could fill a room — and a theater — with spirit.

A favorite memory: many years ago at the end of a long, dreary rehearsal — the kind where, for unexplainable reasons, everyone feels knee-deep in linoleum — the exhausted cast was ready to call it a night. Sandy perked up. “One more time?” she suggested. The director looked at the actors. Sure, why not, they nodded.

As she crossed from a table strewn with scripts and into the cone of the worklight, Sandy muttered something like “come on” — more to herself than anyone else, though, others heard it. From the start, she took charge, led by example, and injected the scene with opening-night energy. The others caught it, fired up, and everything suddenly came together. The rehearsal concluded with the whole group higher than kites.

Sandra Ellis-Troy had that gift in spades, clubs, diamonds, and, most of all, in hearts. ■

La Pastorela de Libertad, by Max Branscomb
Lyceum Stage, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown
Directed by William Virchis; cast: Willie Green, Edwin Ortiz, Joey Molina, Dave Rivas, Rhys Green, Maddie Phillips, Isreal Valdivia, Ana Victoria Ramirez, Marina Inserra, Paul Arajo, Isabela R. Leon, Arturo Aroyo, Melissa Hamilton, Hector Rivera, Natalia Velazquez, Tim Evans, Lucy Saldivar, Enrique Rosales, Jr.; costumes, Maria De Rouen; sound effects and design, Dave Rivas.
Playing through December 19; Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Matinee Saturday at 2:00 p.m. 619-544-1000.

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Thought for the day: He knows when you are sleeping He knows when you're awake He knows your carbon footprint So be good for goodness' sake.

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