As part of a joint effort to encourage kids to read, the Forest Park Public Library and Open Door Repertory Company, a local theater group, have set their sights on “Esperanza Rising,” a popular children’s book recently adapted for the stage. The book-turned-play features actors of seven different nationalities and focuses on such issues as immigration, identity, and familial bonds.
Written by Pam Munoz Ryan and taken from the memoirs of her grandmother, “Esperanza Rising” is a riches-to-rags story about the daughter of a wealthy rancher, whose sudden death turns Esperanza’s life upside down. The book was first adapted to the stage by Lynne Alvarez, and though it strays somewhat from the original plot, it still captures the spirit of the story, according to director Gigi Hudson.
“The story is great,” Hudson said. “It’s beautiful and incredibly timely, given what’s happening in the world today with immigration.”
As Hudson points out, the play caters to a multigenerational audience. There are two casts, 20 actors apiece, and five families who are performing together on stage. Among the nationalities represented are those from Mexico, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.
Lindsay Kraft, who heads the library’s youth services department, contacted Hudson in September of 2006 when she found out about the production. Since then, Kraft has given away free copies of the book and ordered extras so that kids will have read it in time for the performance.
“I’m interested in raising the level of sophistication of children’s theater,” Kraft said.
The production will be held in the Lincoln School Auditorium in Oak Park on March 2 and 9 at 8 p.m., and March 3, 4, 10, and 11 at 3 p.m. On March 28, the library will host a discussion of the book and the play.
Ana Garcia, 12, is especially excited about the play. Not only does she have the lead role as Esperanza, but both her parents will be performing with her on stage.
“This is my first big role,” Garcia said. “Working with my parents has been helpful and fun. They give me good advice about how to say my lines.”
For Michael Fonseca, 12, who plays a ranch hand named Miguel, the most rewarding experience has been working with people with similar ethnicities.
“It’s been great connecting to my Hispanic background,” Fonseca said. “And it’s also really cool to be on stage.”
Housed in Oak Park, Open Door has been around for nine years, offering classes and workshops for adults and students alike. The company also offers a program called Family Series, headed by Hudson, which gives families the opportunity to perform together on stage, such as in “Esperanza Rising.”
“For me, this has been one of the most fascinating experiences as a director,” Hudson said, noting the ethnic blend of Latinos and Americans. “It’s been an amazing process.”