'Journey to Comala' Loses Magical Power

Mexican novelist Juan Rulfo's "Pedro Paramo" is often credited with launching the literary genre of magical realism, a form later adopted by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and others.

Bilingual Foundation of the Arts' new theatrical adaptation, "Journey to Comala" ("Pedro Paramo y el llano en llamas") closely follows the book, but fails to get much of that vaunted magic onstage.

This is a shame, because Rulfo's title character (Armando Garza) makes for a fascinating anti-hero, a seductive but black-hearted landowner whose rise and fall mirrored the fortunes of the imaginary Jalisco village of Comala. The tale is told as a flashback by Paramo's grown son Juan Preciado (Jose A. Garcia), who treks to the now-abandoned village to rediscover his past.

Director Margarita Galban's production cultivates the right air of enchantment, but on the whole it's a disappointingly muddled and lethargic affair. The show sorely lacks a strong visual sense that could help shade characterizations and yield plot momentum.

The cast includes some solid pros, including Margarita Cordova in several roles, but no one can quite give the show the energy it needs. The cliffs and grottoes of Estela Scarlata's set, meanwhile, actually hinder the staging, forcing some awkward entrances and exits.

"Journey to Comala" will alternate weekly performances in Spanish and English. The troupe performed an earlier adaptation of Rulfo's novel, using the book's original title, in 1987.

* "Journey to Comala," Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, 421 N. Avenue 19, Los Angeles. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Dec. 10. $15. (213) 225-4044. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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