by Kayla Tomas
“It’s about coming from a frame of reference that the idea of magic is possible: it’s a faster way to the heart.”
– José Cruz González (Playwright)
Tapping into the imagination, playwright José Cruz González’s use of Magical Realism is a trademark in his work, often used to explore the fictitious while confronting mature themes head-on for young audiences. Born to migrant workers in Calexico, California, González was inspired by the surrounding nature and stories his family brought home from the fields. Prevalent in his work, imaginary lands and extraordinary characters run parallel to everyday experiences children face.
Adapted from C. Anne Scott’s narrative and David Slonim’s impressionistic illustrations, Old Jake’s Skirts explores this concept of Magical Realism, offering an invitation to challenge the imagination of the young audience and lean into magic through an accessible and relatable medium.
Coined in 1925 by German Art Critic Franz Roh, Magical Realism was used to classify art that strayed from the ordinary. We later see this artistic movement in 1940s Latin America, primarily employed as a literary device. Today, Magical Realism is widely associated with works of authors from marginalized groups, artistically challenging the status quo.
Stillwaters Farm serves as the backdrop for Old Jake’s Skirts, portraying a realistic setting of rolling hills and farmland. It is never explicitly disclosed regionally where the play is set, but it is recognizable and exudes a sense of timelessness. There is a conventional depiction of characters that coexist amongst real and fantasy that come to life through the modalites explored in this piece: devising, foley, puppetry and more. Told from the perspective of our play’s narrator, the unique plot structure unfolds from a place of memory. Much of the text remains unchanged from the original story, pairing limited information with magical elements to tap into the fantastical, including dark superstitions and symbols of good fortune; elements often explored in Magical Realism. Without revealing too much, the audience is provided with space to fill in the gaps and summon the imagination, all while wrestling with an indirect societal critique.
Old Jake’s Skirts presents audiences with the dichotomy of reality and magic. While the target audience is young people, it reaches adults the same. No matter how colorfully the world of the play is painted, grief can still exist. Put simply, Old Jake’s Skirts invites us all to find the beauty among loss. That is what reminds us that magic is possible.