The Day of the Dead has come and gone, but it's not too late to catch La Carpa del Ausente, the excellent Day of the Day show running at the Milagro Theatre that doubles as an homage to the Latino soldiers who fought in World War II.
The conceit here sounds scattershot at first: It's a Day of the Dead-themed, 1940s-style USO canteen show. Aaaaand it's bilingual. What?
In fact, though, as is usually the case with the Miracle Theatre Group, the directorial vision is clear, and the production is elegant and effective: La Carpa incorporates music, dance, and pantomime in a very funny and moving tribute to Latino veterans, a group whose contributions to the WWII military effort have often gone overlooked (recently, during the making of PBS' The War, Ken Burns added interviews with Latino soldiers after critics drew attention to their lack of representation). The show consists primarily of dance numbers and short, comedic sketches that borrow heavily from the aesthetic of the USO shows that entertained US troops during WWII. An undercurrent of pathos (combined with the fact that the entire cast is wearing traditional Day of the Dead face make-up) ground the show in a recognition of the fact that for all the fun of the USO shows, they were an attempt to distract soldiers from their daily participation in the grim business of killing and being killed. Additionally, a simple narrative thread unifies what would otherwise feel like an extended vaudeville act.
I saw the show with a busload of Latino teenagers who seemed to enjoy it as much as I did—the transitions between Spanish and English are for the most part very smooth. It helps that the production is very movement-oriented, making the most of the facial and physical versatility of the cast and sticking to familiar motifs that don't require much in the way of verbal explanation.
The cast here is uniformly fantastic, whether cavorting and mugging through high-spirited dance numbers, or dealing with themes of death and loss. The ultimate strength of the production lies in its ability to bring a light touch to heavy issues, to dabble in irreverence and light-heartedness while still functioning as a sincere tribute to Latino veterans.