Playwright Jose Cruz Gonzalez’s Harvest Moon presents a picture of migrant farm workers’ lives in the most literal sense possible during each performance of the play, now having world premiere at Seattle’s Group Theatre through May 8, the family centered story of campesinos in California’s central valley is played on stage while simultaneously, a depictive mural is “painted” scene by scene, giving new meaning to the notion of dramatic vision
In Harvest Moon, the mural could be considered nothing less than a character. When the play begins, Mariluz (played by Vilma Silva), an artist and the daughter of Mexican-American farmworkers is dying from childhood exposure to pesticides. As a last gift to her son, Cuauhtemoc (Ramone McLane), she creates a mural to explain both her own memories and the history of campesinos in the farms of America. As the story progresses, Cuauhtemoc sees as own life unfolding as a literal part of this tapestry, finally coming to understand by the end of the play that he occupies a place in the picture, but one that has not yet been completely drawn and definea.PlaywrightOrder now
Cruz Gonzalez makes the mural integral to the story, not just an illustration but part of the action of the piece.
This incorporation of the design into the production has been a collaborative challenge for visual artist Cecilia Alvarez, set designer Rex Carleton and projection designer Will Cloughley of Synapse Productions. Composed of six shoji-style the screens,the mural measures 9 by 28 feet and is constructed of sharkstooth scrim, allowing the actors to be seen behind it as the screens slide open and they step directly into scenes
The design team, working with director Laura Esperaza, met early on to map out the visual text of the production, after which Alvarez created the actual mural on a reduced scale of 9 by 28 inches. Once completed, the picture was torn apart into its individual elements. Transparent acetates were created to allow scenes to be separated into background and foreground with single and multiple image, building the mural image one detail at a time. Esparza likens it to rudimentary animation, like the shot-script a feature film.
Along those lines, Alvarez also created what Esparza calls an image text For every image there is a corresponding line of dialogue and slide effect. The preshow image of the mural is graffiti on the side of a parking shed; on the line “Lupita, I brought you tomatoes,” the image appears as a single tomato. Later, that tomato fades into a night sky, and the screens create a color change, overlaying stars and the moon. Other scenes unfold layered images of skies and fields, the detail of a pair of eyes, the Statue of Liberty and, most significantly, Mariluz at the center of a tableau, symbolized as a spreading tree embracing her entire family.
With the use of the scrimmed mural, Harvest Moon reaches through time as the play moves across different eras, from the Aztec period to the 1940s to the present day. While it encompasses the personal tales of one immigrant family, it also draws upon the history of the labor movement and activist leader Cesar Chavez, as mother child an appreciation of his history. The rule, says Esparza, was that every image in the play had to be found in the mural
Computer-controlled slide projections designed by Cloughley, a former associate of Bay Area media-master George Coates, make the gradual development of the mural possible; but the mural itself belongs to an older tradition in Mexico’s artistic heritage which reached its finest statement in the work of Diego Rivera, who used breadth of scale as a form of populist expression.
“Is it new?” Esparza asks, and answers her own question. “Is there anything new in theatre?” Harvest Moon, however, is new in Latino/Chicano theatre. “Diego Rivera gave the Mexican people a visual record of their collective memory,” Esparza adds. “That paved the way for the development of Mexican art. Now we are taking it into theatre.” There, the picture tells a larger story.