Award-winning playwright Cherríe Moraga’s latest, “New Fire,” long in the making, is subtitled “To Put Things Right Again” — a hint at Moraga’s ambition in creating the multimedia, multidisciplinary piece.
Moraga, who also directed it for Brava Theater, aims to encompass the struggles of women — queer, indigenous and Chicana in particular — as well as aspects of environmentalism.
The play itself demonstrates ancient ways to heal some of the sins of society. That’s a huge task for an hour-and-a-half, intermissionless play, but there’s lots here to dazzle the eye, entrance the ear and engage the mind.
“New Fire” is in part a series of indigenous rituals, performed onstage by dancers and also intermittently, and at times simultaneously, by practitioners, as seen on two video screens.
Moraga and team traveled the West to shoot these videos (videographer: Emily Encina) of fire circles and such, which lend authenticity to the show. But with the two screens that flank the stage not always projecting identical images, plus action onstage as well, the head is forced to swivel dizzyingly.
Onstage, interwoven with the ritualized dance (beautifully choreographed by Alleluia Panis, who also performs), we follow the story of Vero, who is undertaking a sacred 52nd birthday ritual of regurgitating her past traumas, which include gruesome rape and abuse, to prepare herself for a meaningful life ahead.
Vero symbolizes the plight of Moraga’s entire, marginalized group — a difficult task for any actor, but Dena Martinez manages it with admirable gravitas and focus.
Robert Owens-Greygrass portrays a narrator/guide, but in a low-key and disjointed manner that slows down the action unnecessarily.
More intriguingly, Adelina Anthony, as trickster Coyote, contributes much-needed levity and charm to the fringes of the otherwise earnest narrative.
Neither Moraga’s quasi-poetic text, intoned in voiceovers, nor the minimal dialogue, register strongly.
Most successful — in fact, downright mesmerizing — are the show’s music (composed by Stephen Cervantes), chantlike songs (vocals composed and sung by Charlene O’Rourke) and dance.
Musicians, led by Jorge Molina, on native instruments — drums, gourds, flutes — sit upstage in an evocative, porchlike set (by Celia Herrera Rodriguez, who also designed the costumes and overall concept), providing the background sounds to the exquisite and at times fearsome ritualized dances.
Wearing extravagantly colorful costumes, with sombreros eerily masking their faces, the dancers help Vero on her inner journey, to electrifying effect.
New Fire — To Put Things Right Again
Presented by Brava Theater/cihuatl productions
Where: Brava Theater, 2781 York St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $10 to $30
Contact: (415) 647-2822, www.brava.org