'Exactly what needs to exist': Glass Half Full Theatre presents 'Yamel Cucuy'
“I don’t think it’s at all what we started with,” says Gricelda Silva, the star and co-writer of Glass Half Full Theatre’s new but long-in-development show Yamel Cucuy. “I think Glass Half Full is really good at evolving in the now. And we have been so informed by so many things for four years that this is exactly what needs to exist today.”
Glass Half Full started workshopping Yamel Cucuy about four years ago, and after a few delays (including a worldwide pandemic), the company is now ready to present the show. Like most Glass Half Full productions, Yamel Cucuy includes original music, puppetry work, and a sense of magical realism. Director and co-writer Caroline Reck says the original vision of the show was less lyrical and more grounded in realism.
“When we started the workshop production, we knew we wanted to set the story against a backdrop of a minor migrant who’s being sought by ICE detention, and then contrast that to the story of these spirit characters, these sort of horror figures from Mexican folklore,” Reck says. “What we learned is when we first approached the show, we naturally were moving toward writing [it] like a procedural. And what we realized is Glass Half Full Theatre is really good at writing things that live in an abstracted place in between – like, here’s reality on one end and then here’s the lens that we want you to view it through. So the show has really translated into a much more spiritual journey as opposed to a procedural immigration police journey. The immigration police are [still in the play as] part of the structure of characters that are terrifying to this girl who loves horror movies, but not when they influence her real life. It’s basically a story of what’s more terrifying? Reality or the spirit characters that encircle us?”
Yamel Cucuy deals with terrifying characters including horror movie villains and figures from Mexican folklore – both of which enthralled Silva in her youth. “I love horror movies,” she says with a laugh. “All the… Mexican folkloric legends, I grew up with them. And it was always something where I was very intrigued by them, as opposed by what my parents probably wished for – [for me] to be afraid of them. So yes, I grew up with it. And I love horror movies – I fall asleep to them, so it’s fitting.”
When composing original music for Yamel Cucuy, Paul Piñon drew from two main influences. “I’m a percussionist and drummer by trade,” he says. “And I really got drawn into… that folkloric percussion sound. So that was a big component of it. When I found out that Yamel was really into horror movies, I started thinking about the great horror composers, like Carpenter, or the score to Suspiria, [or] Philip Glass’ Candyman. And I started really thinking about that fun, synthesizer-based sound and trying to figure out how to meld that… older, traditional folkloric music with modern horror scoring.”
Actor Gustavo Martinez, who plays both Yamel’s brother Xavier and the mythical El Chupacabrón, says Yamel Cucuy is a reaction to and a possible balm for the times we find ourselves in. “The message is incredibly empowering, and it is delivered in this fraught environment,” they say. “The backdrop is our very real world on fire, figuratively and literally speaking; the constant state of upset that we are currently existing in. And this production is so hopeful and beautiful. And I hope some of that carries through into people’s minds and hearts. Because it is a lovely performance and production.”
'Yamel Cucuy' runs October 21 - November 5 at Ground Floor Theatre