The girls are in fluffy pink, the boys in cool blue tux jackets with black bow-ties and white pants. And then there’s the girl of the hour – well, by the end of the party, everyone will be calling her a woman. She’s all in white, in what amounts to a flowing strapless wedding gown.
Pig Iron Theatre Company’s latest is an hour-long send-up of a Latina celebration common to several Spanish-speaking countries: the quinceañera, a girl’s 15th birthday, commemorated as a sort of deb ball, with its own unique cultural rituals.
Come to My Awesome Fiesta, It’s Going to be Awesome, Okay? -- which Pig Iron calls a cabaret but is more an elongated sketch – is a fun and funny tribute to the coming-of-age rite. It’s also a departure for Pig Iron – the first production in a decade that has not been directed by Dan Rothenberg, co-artistic director and a founding member of the 12-year-old company. Pig Iron is beginning to incorporate new artistic voices.
Awesome Fiesta opened Friday night for only two performances, ending tonight. Coincidentally, it’s one of two current rite-of-passage productions being staged by both of Philadelphia’s premiere experimental troupes. While Pig Iron’s Awesome Fiesta unfolds in the social space of a church in South Philadelphia, New Paradise Laboratories ends a run this weekend of PROM, its take on the senior high rite being performed at Drexel’s Mandell Theater.
The Pig Iron show was conceived and directed by Alex Torra, a Cuban-American who grew up in Miami and attended a few quinces, as the parties celebrating the quinceañera birthday are often called. Torra has been a member of Pig Iron in the past, and returns after graduating with a master’s degree in directing from Brown University in Providence, R.I. His show’s set up as a formal party, with assigned tables for the audience in a room decked with streamers, colored lights and balloons.
The lovely birthday girl (Hinako Arao) is honored by her court of five couples – much like bridesmaids and ushers, except that they’re also the major celebrants, cued in the performance of each ritual by the evening’s deejay/emcee (Benjamin Camp).
Awesome Fiesta has the essential awkward teenage dancing (choreographed by Christina Zani), including a special dance, ostensibly created by the couples themselves to a medley that morphs from Swan Lake to Spanish to Streisand in a snap. Performed just right, with misplaced self-confidence, it’s one of the evening’s charms.
Among the rituals is a toast with knives, used to cut the birthday cakes at each table. (The major audience participation comes in eating slices of them.) Other rituals include a prayer to a statue of Mary, a wonderfully surreal but sincere gift-giving ceremony that includes a bizarre poem, and “shame toasts” in which members of the court reveal terrible acts they’ve perpetrated on the birthday girl.
It doesn’t go deep, or even off the customary deep end that Pig Iron’s many habituates have come to expect, but Awesome Fiesta hits its mark: The show underscores a cuteness common to these ceremonies, no matter what the culture. “Bursting blossoms grow and spread, ready for the spring,” the emcee intones to the joyful woman of honor. You may be laughing at the florid floral prose, but then you realize you’ve heard something like it, somewhere before, and it wasn’t at the theater.
Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or email@example.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro.
Come to My Awesome Fiesta, It’s Going to be Awesome, Okay?
Presented by Pig Iron Theatre Company at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, 1332 South Third St., between Reed and Wharton Streets. At 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: $15. Information: 215-627-1883.