OC LIVE! : La Posada: A Journey of the Soul : SCR Production Explores One Teen's Passage to Hope

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Holiday travel generally is not an uplifting experience: crammed airports, irritable passengers, lousy food. You endure it to get from points A to B, but you're not going to profit from it much.

There is one seasonal journey, however, that if taken in the proper state of mind can enrich a traveler's soul. It's la posada ; according to Latin American tradition, members of a community re-create the biblical story of Mary and Joseph's passage through the streets of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. The procession is played out every Christmas season in Latin America and in many Latino communities in this country, Orange County's among them.

At South Coast Repertory, director Jose Cruz Gonzalez is throwing a posada to which he is welcoming travelers of all ages and ethnicities. "La Posada Magica," a two-act play by Octavio Solis with music by Marcos Loya, begins this weekend on SCR's Second Stage and continues through Christmas Eve, running alongside the theater's popular Mainstage chestnut, "A Christmas Carol."

"For me, this play is almost a Latino 'Christmas Carol,' " said Gonzalez, who has been working with Solis and Loya since last year, when "La Posada Magica" premiered at SCR, to refine the script and enhance the musical elements. Gonzalez has added a pair of respected comedy actors--Ric Salinas and Richard Montoya of the comedy troupe Culture Clash--to this year's cast.

"I think it reaches out to every part of the community: Latino and non-Latino, children and adults," he continued. Developed with the help of more than $100,000 in grant money from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, "La Posada Magica" was not created specifically for children but is suitable for school-age audiences and up.

It traces the spiritual journey of Graciella, a disillusioned teenager. When neighbors on a posada come to her door, she unwittingly is swept along. Although she does her best to undermine the procession, she finds herself caught up in a sense of renewal and hope.

Although she didn't know it at the time, Crissy Guerrero, who plays Graciella in this year's production, embarked on a journey of her own last summer that would dramatically shape her portrayal: She spent 11 weeks teaching creative dramatics to girls at the Shalimar Teen Center in Costa Mesa through an after-school program established by local church and community service groups in response to the area's drug and crime problems.

"Working with the girls at Shalimar was an incredible experience," Guerrero recalled during a break in rehearsals. "At 14 or 15, these young women already have gone through so much. . . . It took a while to gain their trust enough to get them to play along."

Once trust had been established, however, Guerrero said, she "watched them take on a totally different focus. I could see their minds start to think creatively." She worked with the girls to develop and stage a street-smart take on "Red Riding Hood" that dealt with responses to the lures of drugs and gangs.

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Four of the 16 girls in Guerrero's class have received scholarships to continue their studies in SCR's Young Conservatory program; two of them, Laksmis Castillo and Jessica Villeda, already are enrolled. Theater spokesman Cris Gross said dozens of low-income youths including many from Shalimar and similar programs are expected to see "La Posada Magica" through a special discount-ticket program.

"The kids at Shalimar taught me so much," said Guerrero, a Mexican native who grew up in Costa Mesa and Santa Ana. "They deal with loss and disappointment all the time; they have so many more layers to them than I did when I was 14."

But she was quick to add that all youngsters, regardless of their backgrounds, should find something to relate to in Graciella's journey.

"Every kid has had to come to terms with trouble . . . Gracie goes through an inner struggle that every young person experiences in some way, a struggle with faith and family and love and hope."

* What: "La Posada Magica."

* When: Previews: Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m., Sunday at noon. Regular performances begin Sunday at 4 p.m. and continue Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m., Sundays at noon and 4 p.m. through Dec. 24.

* Where: South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

* Whereabouts: From the San Diego (405) Freeway, exit at Bristol Street, drive north and turn right at Town Center Drive.

* Wherewithal: Previews: $10 to $14. Regular run: $16 to $24. Parking: $6.

* Where to call: (714) 957-4033.

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