Arts Listings

The Theater: ‘Manzi: The Adventures Of Young Cesar Chavez’

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Friday April 13, 2007

Manzi: The Adventures of Young Cesar Chavez will be performed by Active Arts Theare for Young Audiences at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, April 14, and 2 p.m. Sunday, as well as the following weekend, at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College Ave. 

Active Arts took a shorter version of the show on tour around local schools and libraries, including Berkeley Main Library, during the week-long festivities for Cesar Chavez Day. At Thousand Oaks Elementary School, Chavez’s nephew spoke before the show, “then an actor appeared onstage, portraying Chavez’s brother, father of the man who just spoke,” said Nina Meehan of Active Arts, “The children—and the nephew!—saw him act out the part. It was one of the coolest things.” 

Meehan noted that the longer version that will play Julia Morgan “goes quickly—one scene, everybody’s swimming, then they’re under the stars; after that, in a car, then picking crops. One scene goes into another seamlessly.”  

At the Morgan, there are more advantages for the audience than just watching a fuller version of Chavez’s childhood story. “To see theater in a beautiful space like the Morgan, with the sense of space and the lighting, is so different,” said Meehan. “When they’re out under the stars, and the uncle tells about the father and his struggle with injustice, you can feel the desert evening in the darkness—especially compared to the fluorescent lighting in the libraries and schools!” 

The script is by Jose Cruz Gonzalez, an experienced writer for young audiences. “We began looking for a script for a touring show,” Meehan said, “Something thematic for Cesar Chavez Day, and found out about Jose Cruz Gonzalez, who’d written Tomas and the Library Lady about Tomas Rivera, that had toured in Arizona. It’s written in the style of El Teatro Campesino—and our director, Dena Martinez, has worked with El Teatro as well as the SF Mime Troupe, so with masks and signs that identify the characters and their situations, four actors play eight characters—plus, there are children in the play.” 

The show has original music, with one actor “gently underscoring” the action and words on guitar. “The Julia Morgan has such great acoustics,” said Meehan, “that we don’t need to mic’ guitarist or actors. There’s a natural feel to it.” 

There will be educational games and activities in the lobby, featuring the musical instruments, mask-making and bilingual games with words in both English and Spanish.  

“To see Chavez portrayed as a child is a terrific tool,” said Meehan. “When you bring 250 kids, kindergarten through 5th grade together in the audience, and they see young Cesar doing what they do, playing with toys and swimming, then when they see the family have to leave their farm or work in the fields and sing of that repetitive work, day in and day out, there’s that instant recognition which carries over to the more difficult or unfamiliar things. A 4-year-old saw it and really enjoyed it, as did her family.” 

“The kids start to identify with the young Cesar, so that by the end, when they see him grown up with the United Farm Workers, there’s a universal feel to it all. The point is made that Chavez wasn’t born a leader, he became one. So the question is posed, without being asked, what can a child, what can one person do? What can you do?”