One of the remarkable things for me in 2022 was getting acquainted with First Stage. I learned about children’s characters that I had only heard of before that. I learned a lot about children and family dynamics and social culture. And I saw a lot of great theater that I didn’t know was out there…put on by and put on for young people. And I was continually amazed by the effect that theater had on young people when the characters and stories were tailored to their interests. As a child of the Howdy Doody and Captain Kangaroo eras, that shouldn’t have been a surprise, but I forget.
And so the story continues in 2023, with Carmela Full of Wishes!
The play is adapted by Alvaro Saar Rios from the book by Matt de la Pena. And our story revolves around Carmela, who just this day is celebrating her seventh birthday, and her family and her community. We meet Mami who presents Carmela with pancakes with chocolate chips and a candle…but the chocolate chips were supposed to be a surprise…until Big Brother blurted out the secret. And then a gift of bangles and bracelets that make a distinctive and joyous clatter when Carmela shakes her wrists. I can’t imagine a seven year old who wouldn’t love those! But one unique gift is Carmela is now old enough to accompany her brother on errands for Mami…and here the adventure begins!
And here we have to credit scenic designer Reginia Garcia for an exquistically colorful set that works overtime as Carmela’s house, a local bodega, neighbor’s homes, and city and community locales! And director Michelle Lopez-Rios makes sure Carmela and Big Brother get their steps in for the day as they traverse and circle the stage to complete their errands. But you give up the sense of dizzy and soon realize that they have been given a fair amount of responsibility and agency throughout the neighborhood!
And we get to know a lot more about the environment of a seven year old…both the physical one she is sharing with Big Brother and the one that she is working out in her mind and emotions. And Big Brother reacts just like a big brother most of the time. A bit domineering and not wanting to show affection for little sister. A very real life sibling dynamic.
But this is really about Carmela and the wishes…and some discoveries about her life, happiness, sorrows, and all. I won’t give away too much, but those wishes are the real journey and she shares them with the audience as she tries them out in her imagination, sometimes in asides and sometimes in direct presentations…clearly aloud because Big Brother warns her to quit talking to herself. But only Carmela is aware of the world outside of the stage.
In her journey, she learns about wishes and birthday candles and then the precious dandelion she protects and matter of factly bounces her ideas for wishes off of. And we see a young person who is hopeful, curious, aware, and highly imaginative…and a bit aware of the magic all around her and inside of her!
As always, First Stage has two casts for the younger actors in their presentations. I have included photos from each cast that were provided by First Stage.
Carmela Full of Wishes runs until February 12, 2023 at The Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Center. Most of the times are weekend matinees at 1 PM and 3:30 PM and run time is 70 minutes plus a short intermission. Recommended for an audience of 3 and up and I can attest that younger children loved this show.