FORT WORTH -- This is the production we have been waiting for Artes de la Rosa to do.
The Fifth Sun, which opened at the Rose Marine Theatre on Friday, is a powerful theatrical presentation of the life of Oscar Romero, a Salvadoran priest who stood up against the political repression in that Central American nation in the late 1970s and paid for it with his life.
This play, written by Nicholas A. Patricca, is part documentary, part drama and part fantasy. Despite its unusual structure, it is clear and direct in its purpose. And it never releases its grip on the audience.
The story takes place between 1977 and early 1980, when Romero was gunned down while celebrating Mass. His killers were believed to be members of one of the right-wing death squads that spread so much misery in that time and place.
Although Romero was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and displayed superhuman bravery on a number of occasions, the script does not over-inflate its subject. It treats him as man who is tormented by the decisions he knows he must make as he is pulled in different directions by the rising forces around him. The result is a much more realistic examination of who Romero was that inspires respect and admiration without forcing its case.
Directed by Artes de la Rosa artistic director Adam Adolfo, this fine text is also boldly and creatively staged, especially in its presentation of the other four suns -- a quartet of Mayan gods who float above and around the mayhem perpetrated by the mortals, who disappoint them so regularly.
Adolfo has these strikingly costumed and made-up characters hanging and swinging from drapes hung above the action, while they serve as commentators on the horror below. It is an arty, perhaps even slightly pretentious, approach. But it works beautifully, giving the show strong visual definition, even though it has no set.
George X. Rodriguez is outstanding as Romero, who was the archbishop of El Salvador when he was so heinously murdered while serving communion. The actor brings exactly the right bearing and gravitas to his character. His death is especially hard to take because, by the time the show ends, it is just about impossible not to feel that Rodriguez is Romero.
There are a few problems with the production.
Some of the acting is a bit flat and the lighting overstates the darkness of the material (at least in part because the Rose Marine is such a tough place to illuminate). And the show's conclusion seems a bit abrupt. It begs for a spoken epilogue or some visual touch to better bring the curtain down.
On the whole, however, this show is heart-felt and unflinching in its honesty. It pulls no punches, for example, about the complicity of the U.S. government and the Catholic Church in the crimes committed in El Salvador in those times.
So it is exactly the sort of production that Artes de la Rosa should be doing -- strong, take-no-prisoners theater that attempts to speak forcibly to the company's core audience in particular.
It is highly fitting then that, after its run concludes at the Rose Marine, the show will have two performances on Sept. 28-29 at Dallas' Latino Cultural Center, which collaborated on this production.