Usually in fairy tales, for every prince there is a princess. But often, in life and in legends, the prince falls for another prince, as in Perla Szuchmacher’s popular Spanish-language play for young audiences, Príncipe y Príncipe.
Based on the equally adored children’s book King & King — published in ten languages, so far, by author-illustrators Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland — Príncipe y Príncipe has delighted audiences worldwide with its irreverently funny tale of a Queen seeking to marry off her son, the Prince, to his chosen princess, but finding one major hitch in her plans.
GALA Hispanic Theatre, as part of its GALita program for family audiences, premieres a new bilingual production of Príncipe y Príncipe, adapted and directed by queer D.C. native El Chelito. The show marks a return to GALA for the Salvadoran-American theater maker — born Eric Swartz — who previously adapted and directed the GALita production Que las hay, las hay, and was practically raised on the company’s creations.
“I grew up going to see shows at GALA as a kid, going to student matinees with my school, and also my mom would take me to see shows there,” recalls El Chelito (the childhood nickname is Salvadoran slang for “pale-skinned boy”). “So it feels very full-circle for me to get to create work on that stage, and for the Latino community here in D.C., which is my community and has been my community my whole life.”
In addition to his work at GALA, El Chelito has staged and adapted several other productions for young audiences, including Pointless Theatre’s Helen Hayes-nominated Don Cristóbal. But Príncipe y Príncipe presents an unprecedented opportunity.
“Rarely do we see queer-themed fairy tales,” he points out, noting as well that we don’t often see bilingual fairy tales, either. “I am really excited by bilingual stories because I grew up bilingually. I’m excited by queer stories because I am a queer person. So this show fits really well into that Venn diagram.”
Filled with music, dancing, and irreverent humor, Príncipe y Príncipe otherwise engages and amuses by not fitting the narrow standards of typical “Once upon a time” fare. El Chelito calls the show “an homage to the classic fairy tale tropes, but with contemporary twists and touches — the fact that the prince falls in love with another prince being one of them.”
And he hopes the show can enlighten not just the kids in the audience but the adults who bring them.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about who I was when I was the age of the audience, and what stories might have helped me to accept myself fully at a younger age,” says El Chelito. “What representation in media could have been helpful or beneficial to open up, not necessarily that place of questioning or curiosity, but to open up that place of self-love and acceptance.”
El Chelito aims to model that self-love and acceptance for the children in the audience through the story. “But also,” he adds, “modeling for the parents what is it to have a child come out, and how do you as a parent respond to that? How do you create space of acceptance for your child, but also create space of acceptance for yourself? For what that might mean for you and your family going forward.”
Every loving parent, like the Queen in the story, should want to see their child thriving and happy, “regardless of who their child’s chosen partner is,” says El Chelito. “So that’s my hope there, is that the depiction of this rather innocent love that springs up between these two characters can create space for parents to imagine that their child might have a future that they haven’t imagined for their child, but that future can be and will be just as, hopefully, beautiful and loving and caring as whatever relationship those parents are in.”
That, of course, includes parents who are queer themselves, says El Chelito. “One of the things that’s really exciting to me about doing the show is the possibility of queer parents coming and bringing their children, and getting to give queer families a chance to see a love that resembles theirs, and a family and care that resembles theirs, enacted onstage.”
Príncipe y Príncipe runs March 11 through March 25 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. Performances are bilingual, in Spanish and English. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for children. Call 202-234-7174 or visit www.galatheatre.org.
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