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Review: 'El Ogrito' at 24th Street Theatre

June 18, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Ogrito1 “El Ogrito (The Ogreling)” is a deliciously unexpurgated fairy tale with a decidedly grisly bent.

Part of 24th Street Theatre’s Teatro Nuevo Internacional program, “Ogrito” was originally written in French by Quebec-based playwright Suzanne Lebeau and translated into Spanish by Cecelia Iris Fasola. This U.S. premiere is performed in Spanish with English supertitles translated by Shelley Tepperman.

That may seem a case of too many cooks, but nothing was lost in this translation, which functions as both charming entertainment and pointed political allegory.

The action transpires in a creepy woodland setting, superbly evoked by scenic designer Keith Mitchell, lighting designer Christopher Kuhl and sound designer John Zalewski. It is here that Mama (Julieta Ortiz) lives with her son, Simon, nicknamed Ogrito (Gabriel Romero), a towering 6-year-old half-human/half-ogre with gory appetites that Mama’s strictly all-vegetarian diet have not blunted.

In fine fairy tale style, Ogrito must undertake three trials before he can become a “real boy.”  But although Ogrito’s heroic struggle against heredity and instinct forms the crux of the conflict, the play is also a poignant parable of mother love.

Ortiz captures the agony of a woman who cannot alter her son’s fate, but must only hope. The excellent Romero personifies childlike innocence without parody yet is also completely convincing in his more menacing mode.  In his satisfyingly dark staging, director Jesús Castaños-Chima balances any hint of the lurid with an emotional subtlety that will resonate with adults as well as children.  However, parents should be cautioned that the material might prove a bit harrowing for the very young.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

El Ogrito,” 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles.  3 p.m. this Saturday only, 3 p.m. Sundays through July 26.   $15 adults, $7 children.  (213) 745-6516. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Caption: Gabriel Romero (Ogrito) and Julieta Ortiz (Mother) in "El Ogrito" at 24th Street Theatre. Credit: Loli Castanos