Photo by Bob Smith

Death/La Muerte (2011)

Part III of the Music Theater Trilogy
Aguas Ancestrales - Ancient Waters

In the third part of the trilogy, La Muerte/Death, I focus on death and transcendence.

Now in her seventies, Paula can sense the end is near. The visions of her deceased daughter Elisa and of the others (Karankawa Indians of long ago) are more frequent. Her family thinks it is dementia, but Paula is simply in conversation with Death. She has seen La Llorona (Weeping Woman), been touched by the spirit of the great River, and knows La Muerte well. The journey to the other world and to the daughter that La Llorona stole from her has at last begun.

In this final installment of the trilogy, I intend to explore new ground as an artist by combining Eurocentric and non-Eurocentric dramatic forms



1980's San Antonio Texas, home of Tina and Rafael Perez.
Setting: It is evening. A small dark bedroom inside of Tina and Rafael's home. On the night stand, is a miniature Mexican and American flag.
Paula, now in her eighties, is sleeping on an old twin bed. Faces of Karankawa Indians, who have past into legend, come out of the shadows. They watch as Paula's nightmare begins. A curtain, hanging from the window, moves violently. A young girl can be seen in the distance. It is Elisa, Paula's first child, who drowned many years ago at the river. La Llorona/The Weeping Woman is beckoning to her. Paula cries out, " Mi hija, No. No Elisa!. No! " The nightmare ends and Tina runs into the room to comfort her mother. "Soy yo Mama. It's me, tu hija", Tina tells her. She cradles her, rocking her back and forth. Tina strokes her mother's hair as she has hundreds of times before. Paula is quiet and says nothing. She whimpers like a young child. She has all the signs of dementia. Tina sings a lullaby, one her mother use to sing to her as a child, and remembers happier days.

A loud voice is heard from another room. It is Tina's husband, Rafael. He soon appears at the doorway. Tina tells him that she can't bring herself to put her mother in a home, but Rafael reminds her of the promise she made to him. After a brief argument, Tina concedes to his wishes. As agreed, she will take her mother to the home at the end of the month. She finds comfort in knowing that she will be able to celebrate her mother's eighty fifth birthday tomorrow.

La Muerte/Death enters and sits next to Paula. "They're talking about you", he tells her. Paula speaks to him and is completely lucid. Tina approaches and wishes her good night. Both Tina and Rafael leave. La Muerte tells Paula he has a gift for her. He will give it to her tomorrow at her birthday party.

NEXT DAY - Hills Grove park, next to the river.

It is early afternoon and the birthday party is well underway. Relatives, young and old, have come out to pay their respects to Paula. There are also other families making good use of the park, with a piƱata hanging from a tree. Cojunto music can be heard in the distance.

Paula, is looking out into the distance, seeming unaware or disinterested in everything around her. Eduardo and Camila come by to say hello. They are Rafael and Tina's compadres (best friends). Eduardo stretches out his hand to greet Paula and when he does, Paula refuses to touch him and calls him a bandero (thief). Tina and Rafael apologize for her behavior. Rafael tells Eduardo how pleased he will be to be rid of this bruja (witch).

Paula is left alone. La Muerte approaches her in the guise of a young and beautiful woman. Paula chastises him for not bringing the gift he promised her. He points to a young girl standing at the banks of the river. It is Elisa, as she once was many years ago.

She is holding a doll. Paula stands up and walks toward her. She begins to relive a moment from her youth, when Elisa was still alive. Elisa dangles her feet over the water and Paula tells her to be careful. She sits next to her. Elisa asks her how long they will be living with Cayetana, Paula's mother. "Not long", she tells her. Elisa doesn't mind. She is fascinated by the river and asks her mother where all the water goes. Paula tells her it travels to the mouth of the sea. She describes it in detail. She was there as a child, visiting her Uncle Refugio and his family. It was there that she learned her grandfather was one of the last Karankawa Indians, a tall and noble race that disappeared almost a century ago. Her uncle took her to the "healing ground", a marshland close to the ocean. It was a sacred place where the Karankawas honored the sea. Elisa asks her mother to take her there one day. Paula promises her and even agrees to take Elisa's favorite doll. The memory ends.

Paula notices a young boy playing alone. La Muerte picks up a few poisonous rasma seeds from the ground and gives them to the boy. The young boy begins to eat them. His mother notices, but it's too late. He begins having convulsions, drops the seeds from his hand, and they take him away to try to save him. Tina goes to her mother to see if she is alright. As she walks Paula back toward the picnic table, Paula tells her she knows about her daughter's plan to put her into the home. "Before you do, take me to the sea one last time", she pleads. Tina agrees. . Rafael calls Tina and Tina tells Paula she'll be right back. La Muerte picks up the seeds that the boy dropped, hands them to Paula, and walks away. Paula tucks them into her pocket and Tina comes to retrieve her mother.


Main street, Corpus Cristi
The street is bustling with street vendors and tourists. Rafael, Tina, Eduardo, and Camila enter. Rafael insisted that Paula remain at the beach bungalow and Tina is feeling uneasy that she agreed to his demand. A curandera (healer and fortune teller) offers to tell their fortune, but Rafael brushes her off. They spot a Mexican restaurant and sit down at one of the outdoor tables. They order drinks. Tina wants to retrieve her mother, but Rafael tells her no and to enjoy the evening. He complains to Eduardo that this is not the kind of marriage he imagined when he married Tina. Each of them reflects on the state of their marriage (quartet). Hoping to Rafael can see that Tina is nervous and is still concerned about Paula. The curendera walks by again. She is La Muerte in disguise. He asks her to tell Tina's fortune, hoping it will get Tina to stop thinking about Paula.

The curandera tells her that her blood line is tied to this land and to the people that once inhabited it, las Karankawas. "It stems from your mother", she tells her. "And now they beckon to her, to come home. Her time has come". Tina becomes frightened and leaves to the hotel to be with Paula. Camila joins her. The men are now alone and Rafael has had too much to drink. He confesses he could have been a better husband and blames his mother in law for interfering in their marital affairs

Bungalow by the beach
Paula is sitting in front of a small tv. Camila and Tina are playing cards. Tina fondly remembers how energetic and independent her mother was when she was younger. The two both recount the days when they were rebellious teenagers. Rafael enters and is drunk. He?s holding flowers and a couple of bottles of beer. Tina suggests that Camila leave. Camila reluctantly agrees.

He offers her the flowers and opens both beer bottles for them to drink. He promises her that when Paula is gone, he will be a better husband to her. When he tries to be affectionate with her, she tries to pull away from him, but he will not let her go. Paula leaves the room and goes to the kitchen. Tina knows what he wants from her and pleads with him to stop. "We can't Rafael. My mother is here. Please, sueltame", she tells him. Now, Rafael is determined to have his way and forces her down onto the bed. Paula emerges from the kitchen with a pan and a broom. She strikes him as hard as she can. As tries to get up, she continuously hits him with the broom and Rafael runs out of the bungalow.

Paula goes to Tina and comforts her. They cry and laugh together. Tina wishes she had her mother's strength and had married someone more like her father. Paula tells her she can summon that strength. Tina promises to leave her husband and that she will not put her into a home. She will take care of her always. Tina lies down on the bed. Paula strokes her hair and sings a song she sang to Tina when she was just a child. Tina soon falls asleep. Paula is confident her daughter will be ok and kisses her goodbye for the last time. She picks up her small bag and leaves the bungalow.

The marshes - close to the ocean
(how does Paula know where to go)
We see small outdoor fiesta. There is a Day of the Dead altar close to the picnic table. Many of Paula's dead relatives are present. Some are preparing food. Paula enters. They have been waiting for her. Cayetana, Paula's mother, Cipriano (her stepfather), and Blas ( Paula's husband) are there as well. Her Uncle Refugio welcomes her. She looks for Elisa, but doesn't see her. La Muerte comes out from the shadows and tells her she is on the way, but first they must eat. La Muerte asks if she brought the rasma seeds. Paula hands them to him. He give them to Cayetana and she begins to grind them for the meal. Uncle Refugio takes out his accordion. Blas asks him to play them a corrido (folk song). He begins to play Mi Vida sin Dolor (My life without pain). Paula sings and soon the other join in. The meal is ready and they prepare to eat. Paula takes the first bite.

A Karankawa Indian appears and La Muerte tells Paula to go to him. The Karankawa points out to the distance and we see Elisa on a small boat. It is making its way to the ocean out from the bay. As Paula goes out to it, she collapses. Her body lies motionless on the grass, but her spirit rises and goes to the boat. Elisa calls to her. As she boards the boat, Tina and the compadres arrive. Tina sees her mother's body on the ground and runs to her. As she cradles her mother's body and mourns her death, Paula and Elisa go out to sea.