Since 1995, Puget Sound Revels has presented holiday programs steeped in the music, dance, stories and traditions of other cultures. Most often, the culture of origin is European; this year, however, for the first time, “The Midwinter Revels” gazes south into Mexico, a land where Catholicism and other Christian doctrines overlay Indigenous, Mesoamerican traditions. Return with Revels, then, to fabulous Tenochtitlan, the city that would grow into the historic center of Ciudad de Mexico (Mexico City).
In December of 1531, according to legend, Indigenous peasant Juan Diego was en route to mass when a beautiful woman appeared out of nowhere and identified herself as Mary, the mother of Jesus. Validating that claim were a halo around the mysterious woman’s body and the songs of invisible birds. Mary asked Diego to build her a temple there on Tepeyac Hill, former site of an Aztec temple. Diego was unable to convince the regional bishop of his claims about the experience until Diego’s uncle overcame a seemingly terminal illness, after which Mary’s image appeared on a woven cloak. That imprinted fabric now hangs in Mexico City’s Basilica de Santa Maria de Guadalupe, a sanctuary visited by millions of pilgrims each year. Its subject, “Our Lady of Guadalupe,” is revered by Mexican Catholics as the so-called “Queen of the Americas.”
“I’m very fond of Mexico,” says BJ Douglas, the director of Tacoma Revels’ annual holiday shows since that chapter’s inception 27 years ago. “My father and stepmother bought a house there and retired there, so I have been there a lot.” She credits Antonio Gómez, education director for Tacoma Arts Live, as a valuable consultant who pointed her toward a vivid translation of the Guadalupe story. In her own writing, Douglas says, she labored to stay true to the spirit of that translation.
Casting a production set in 16th-century Latin America, however, would prove daunting. Douglas admits that, despite extensive outreach efforts, she struggled to recruit Latinx performers. Much of her cast remains Anglo-American. Fortunately, the show’s lead this year is Marleyne Hernàndez, a veteran of shows at Tacoma Arts Live and Tacoma Little Theatre. She plays a woman who is reclaiming her Mexican heritage. Joining the festivities is folk band Trío Guadalevin, aka percussionist Gómez and multi-instrumentalists August Denhard and Abel Rocha. Founded in 2014, that trio blends the music of Latin America with elements from African and European cultures. It will perform alongside adult and children’s choruses, the Seattle Brass Ensemble and dance troupe Bailadores de Bronce, the latter celebrating its golden anniversary.
Expect miracles, at least those of the theatrical kind, at Tacoma’s Rialto Theater this holiday season. Masks for audience members are optional but highly recommended.
The Midwinter Revels
2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17 (evening show with ASL interpretation);
1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18;
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20;
2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21
Rialto Theater, 310 S. 9th St., Tacoma