‘Corazón de papel: A Hurricane Story’ Comes to NYC

Pedro Adorno Irizarry in “Corazón de papel: A Hurricane Story” (Screen shot from the International Puppet Fringe Festival NYC)

Just a few weeks after Hurricane María struck Puerto Rico with such devastation, Pedro Adorno Irizarry, his wife Cathy Vigo and their theater group Agua, Sol y Sereno began to fan out across the island, to bring community theater to people whose lives had been upended. In the process, they found that survivors needed to tell stories – about themselves and the people who had died following the storm’s wrath and subsequent governmental neglect. Eventually, Adorno and his troupe began to piece together a new work, “Corazón de papel: A Hurricane Story,” which will premiere with three performances at the inaugural International Puppet Fringe Festival NYC next week. The work is one of several from around the world that will be presented at the festival, which runs from Aug. 8 – 12 at the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center on the Lower East Side.

“‘Paper Heart’ is storytelling, with seven stories about people who died during the hurricane,” said Adorno in a telephone interview with Voices of NY. “They cannot go away until their stories are told. They really want to tell their stories.” Fashioning their characters with brown paper as the narratives unfold, the seven ensemble members will offer “a really minimalistic show” to illustrate not only the painful aftermath of the hurricane, but also the cynical and offensive response of the federal government, says Adorno.

The company developed the show over a period of a few months, as ensemble members moved from one residency to the next in Puerto Rico, working with local residents to express their experiences through drama. Each of the seven stories will be told through “images, music, singing and really simple lines. And we’re going to use some fragments of news that tell the world what is going on here,” said Adorno. Manuel Antonio Morán of The MORÁN Group, which is producing the International Puppet Fringe Festival NYC, invited Adorno and his company to participate in the festival.

The gradual revelations about how many Puerto Ricans – now estimated at 4,645 – lost their lives following the hurricane will be integrated into “Corazón de papel.” Brown paper is used to shape and reveal the characters of the dead, says the company director, because the hurricane destroyed so much vegetation on the island last September that “we felt that the whole country was only dry – dry trees, a really dry place – and so brown and sepia colors are the aesthetic of the show.”

Adorno and his wife, who were just about to mark the 25th anniversary of their company when the hurricane hit, have in a way returned to their roots in community theater. After studying for four years at Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont, they formed their company in Puerto Rico, incorporating into their work not only puppetry but also experimental theater, music and even film to explore different themes. After María, they conducted more than 20 residencies in different locations, says Adorno, and on their return to Puerto Rico from NYC they plan another 12 or so residencies, some in communities that still don’t have electricity. The objective is to heal with art, and to bring people together to “find new narratives.”

Adorno hopes that many people will see “Corazón de papel,” and that the company can eventually show it in other parts of the U.S. and in Latin America. For him, what’s happening at home in Puerto Rico, and helping people to tell their stories, is paramount. “This is a difficult moment. We have to make decisions, and figure out how to survive for the next years. We cannot wait for the next hurricane. We’ve got a difficult situation with economic debt, a difficult situation politically. But communities and people are more united than ever.” Perhaps theater, and puppetry, can help to guide the way.

“Corazón de papel: A Hurricane Story,” will be performed at 6 p.m. on Friday Aug. 10 and Saturday Aug. 11, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday Aug. 12, at the Flamboyán Theater at The Clemente at 107 Suffolk St. on the Lower East Side. It will be performed mostly in Spanish with some English translation. For tickets and information about other shows scheduled at the International Puppet Fringe Festival NYC, click here

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