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Teatro Paraguas’ ‘Rio Puerco’ to open Latino Theatre Festival in Albuquerque

Jo Jo Sena de Tarnoff is shown in a scene from "When the Stars Trembled in Rio Puerco." (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Jo Jo Sena de Tarnoff is shown in a scene from “When the Stars Trembled in Rio Puerco.” (Eddie Moore/Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — A play based on oral histories from the Rio Puerco Valley, which filled Teatro Paraguas in Santa Fe when it premiered earlier this year, will travel to Albuquerque to kick off the new Latino Theatre Festival, Siembra, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center Sept. 25-28.

That center, partnering with 10 theater companies in the state, will stage a variety of works by Latino/Latina playwrights from then until May 2015.

“When the Stars Trembled in Rio Puerco” is based on a book by Nasario Garcia, who grew up in the valley southeast of Chaco Canyon, with a script developed by Shebana Coelho, who also directs the production. Garcia, who left the valley in 1945 to live in Albuquerque’s Martineztown, collected recollections of people who lived along the Rio Puerco from the 1910s to the 1950s.

Those stories are pulled together onstage by friends and family who shift from telling to re-enacting the various incidents, from an Indian raid to ghosts to religious rituals to government agents telling families they had to kill many of their cattle or sheep, because the land wouldn’t support them. Those orders, combined with drought, were what emptied the small villages.

The character Bencés, talking to Garcia in the play, says: “Things are different now, Nasario. We are so far away from the land … . Before, do you know what we used to do? … We used to go out on the land. Every day. We would go out. Listen to the river. Listen to the silence. Put our feet on earth … .

 “No matter if the stars were trembling from cold, we would go out on the land, sleep in our blankets and whatnots. Or we would look up at those stars. Trembling.”

The play is presented in English, with occasional snatches of Spanish thrown in. It will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 25-27, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28. Tickets are $18, or $15 for students.You can buy tickets at or by calling 505-246-2261.

Each performance will be followed by an open mic, when anyone can bring a memento and share a story from the past, lasting  three to four minutes.

A video of the locations in the Rio Puerco where some of the stories took place will be shown 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, followed by a question and answer period.

Garcia has published over 26 books in Spanish and English, 10 of which concern folklore and oral history.