Double the Myth, Double the Fun – Boxtales stages a tale from the Popol Vuh

Isaac Hernandez photos
Isaac Hernandez photos

Boxtales Theatre Company has taken one of the main sections of the Popol Vuh, the scripture of the Quiche Maya people of Central America, and turned it into “The Hero Twins.” The play is in both English and Spanish and contains many features found in other creation myths: a tree of knowledge, a journey into the underworld, a defeat and a triumphant return. But instead of a snake, there’s a talking skull in the tree. And instead of war and battle, there’s a ball game — one of the first mentions of sport in ancient texts. There’s an immaculate conception, achieved in a very peculiar way. The crossovers, echoes, and variations make this perfect for Boxtales: They dive in with their masks on.

This is the first myth-based performance for Boxtales since 2009’s “Om,” a version of the Ramayana. “The Hero Twins” originated during 2011. “We were gearing up for the end of the Mayan calendar,” says cast member Matt Tavianini. He’s referring to the supposed “end of the world” that worrywarts supposed would happen at the finish of 2012. (Note: the world is still here.)

Michael Andrews, Boxtales’ executive artistic director, had read the myth years ago and had been waiting to take it on. Adapting sprawling myths takes time. These works do not conform to the usual story structures we’re used to from Hollywood.

“We’ll talk about it, assemble it,” says Mr. Tavianini about the creation of the script. “Usually there’s some editing. For this one, it’s a pretty convoluted story. We’ve had to condense down but make sure things still fit.”

Within that, they’ve had to talk about what to leave in and leave out, and this myth has been one of the hardest to adapt.

“With any myth we’d come across, there’s always questions that the story doesn’t explain,” says Mr. Tavianini. “And in modern-day society, we want things to follow logically. But as artists we love these gaps in logic, because they provide the space where we can interpret it. We can tell it textually or through sound or music.”

For example, there are two trips to the underworld in this play, one by a first set of twins, told in shadow puppetry. The next trip is undertaken by their progeny, played out by the cast. “Two different modalities,” is how Mr. Tavianini describes it. Those gaps and mysteries, the things that create wonder, sometimes bump up against 21st-century audience, especially children.

“Kids will ask us, ‘Is this story true?’ ” he says. “They want to know, did this happen this way? We tell them, well, things may not have happened exactly that way, but there’s truth about the themes in the story, and you can apply it to your life.”

The cast includes new Boxtales member Marie Ponce, who comes from Lit Moon Theater Company. She helped build this show, and is already working on their next production, which might add multimedia to the mix.

“Being female, she’s brought a different sensitivity and nuance to the material,” Mr. Tavianini says. “She’s also really great with younger kids, especially younger girls. She’ll tell them, ‘You’re a girl, I’m a girl; you could be doing this when you grow up.’ ”

‘Boxtales: The Hero Twins’
When: 2 and 7 p.m. Sat., 2 and 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Center Stage Theater, Paseo Nuevo
Cost: $25/$15
Information: 963-0408, www.centerstagetheater.org

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