It is hard enough to get butts in seats for just about any play in Orange County, and harder still to get non-white butts in those seats for most theaters. So, when you run a small space in north Orange County, even in a town with a Spanish name (which really doesn’t exist in the language, apparently) and the play in question is delivered in both English and Spanish, you’d think it’d be an even harder sell.
But reports from the Mysterium Theatre in La Habra indicate that its dual language production of Walt Disney’s Aladdin is working. Which was the idea the whole time.
Several months ago, Mysterium’s Artistic Director Marla Ladd began polling Mysterium’s patrons as to what city they were from.
“I found that less than 1 percent were coming from La Habra,” she said. “Although we have been in La Habra for two years, so many folks didn’t know it. “So, (I started thinking of) different ideas to attract our immediate community.”
Considering La Habra’s population is nearly 60 percent Latino, Ladd felt choosing a play performed with both English and Spanish words would be a good fit.
“When I heard the dual language was available, I jumped on it,” she said. “I thought (it) would be a great way to introduce our community to our theater….(and) build our audience base.”
“It’s been a great experience to be involved in,” said Stephanie Arballo, the stage manager. “It’s a very faithful production of the animated film, and the timeless tale of love is the same, but because it’s done in English and Spanish it changes the way people react to it.”
In this adaptation, by Jose Cruz Gonzalez, who was hired by Disney’s Theatrical Productions to write it, the villain, Jafar, has cast a spell over the countryside. People in the palace speak Spanish while the commoners speak English (on-stage actors translate each). The result, according to Arballo whose role entails she knows the show as well as anyone, raises a point that is applicable in America 2017.
“It adds a whole different social and moral component,” she said. “Language barriers can be broken when there is love and respect on both sides.”
It was a gamble for Mysterium, a hard-working theater in La Habra that churns out productions at an often dizzying pace. Though La Habra has its fair share of Spanish-speaking residents, getting them into any theater is always a challenge (most plays are written by white people and feature white characters, concerns and actors).
“I do think some people who didn’t speak Spanish were a little leery before coming in,” Arballo said. “But once they watch it, they realize and even though you don’t understand verbatim what some of the characters are saying, the actors’ emotion and the way they carry themselves also carries the language.”
While the play hasn’t sold out, Ladd said that “everyone who attends has loved it and the Goldstar reviews glow with excitement over the fun production. It is easy to understand whether you speak English or Spanish and our production team has done a beautiful job of making the production values top notch.
La Habra Depot Playhouse, 311 S. Euclid Ave., La Habra, (562) 697-3311. Fri.-Sat., 7:45, Sun., 3 p.m. Thru Sunday. www.mysteriumtheater.com.