Dark Magica

Holiday theater offerings in recent years have fallen increasingly into one of two classes: one is the traditional, auto-programmed camaraderie aimed at groups of strangers taking a break from flipping one another off on the freeways. The other is the cynical backlash to this feel-good phoniness, aimed at trashing the conventional beliefs and icons of the season.

Octavio Solis and Marcos Loya's La Posada Magica (The Magic Inn) is a most welcome alternative to these polar opposites, that rare holiday treat exploring the true meaning of Christmas that is neither glassy-eyed good cheer nor let's beat the crap outta Santa.

La Posada probes the dark side of this most joyous of seasons much as a classic fairy tale, with simple, childlike sweetness tempered by sinister darkness. Gracie (Tiffany Ellen Solano) is an angry girl of 14 questioning her belief in God after the recent death of her younger brother. Reluctantly swept up in the neighborhood posada—a symbolic re-enactment of Joseph and Mary's search for that elusive inn on the first Christmas Eve—Gracie impulsively sabotages the march, derailing the group and launching herself on a cold journey down a dark road of lost souls. Only here, through a chance encounter with a young couple in need, does Gracie rediscover her faith and the real meaning of la posada—and of Christmas itself.

Director Jorge Galvn draws strong performances from his talented, high-octane cast, especially the very appealing Solano as Gracie; Benito Martinez as vigilant security guard Eli; and Dominic Flores as Refugio, a burnin' hunk o' comedic talent if ever there was one. Co-writer Loya, as one of a trio of ubiquitous musicians, punctuates the action with smart-ass asides as sharp as his world-class guitar playing.

La Posada Magica at South Coast Repertory's Second Stage, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555. Tues.-Wed. N Fri., 8 p.m.; Thurs. N Sun., 12:30 N 4:30 p.m.; Sat., 3 N 8 p.m. $18-$30.

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