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Tradition with a twist Allison K. Sampité-montecalvo | Sat, Dec 15 2012 09:04 AM

The musical comedy featuring a timeless battle of good versus evil is back.

San Diego’s longest-running professional theater production, Teatro Mascara Magica, America’s oldest civil rights organization, is celebrating its 22nd year.

“La Pastorela de Creencia,” is the newest in the award-winning series of Mexican-inspired Christmas musicals, written by Dr. Max Branscomb and directed by Bill Virchis.

This year, the production reveals a modern twist on the traditional story of the shepherds’ journey to Bethlehem to witness the first Christmas, where they face temptation and danger from Lucifer and his minions.

It is a traditional morality play, which Branscomb said focuses on hope.

“The play reflects reality in America and all the trials we’ve had,” Branscomb said.

It takes current events and injects them with satire.

The bilingual script is written primarily in English with Christmas carols sung in Spanish and celebrates the Spaniards journey to Mexico in the 1540s with the story that became the country’s most popular form of theater, with more than 2,500 different versions produced south of the border.

“This show is probably the most important part of folk art of all time … because it’s what kept the Christmas story alive,” Branscomb said.

Branscomb said the script has evolved from being very traditional to entertaining pop culture based on news and current events.

Joey Molina, 41, has played Lucifer for the last six years and began acting at Southwestern College with Bill Virchis years ago.

“It has really become our gift to the community,” Molina said. “We really feel like it’s almost our calling or obligation to give this Christmas gift.”

Molina said the show is one that cannot be missed.

“Every year we raise the bar,” he said. “It just gets crazier and funnier every year. There are going to be some jaw-dropping moments.”

Molina praised Branscomb and Virchis for their creative commitment to the arts.

“Max never ceases to amaze me with how he has a pulse on what’s going on,” Molina said. “He really has a knack of finding what’s of significance and he’s funny.”

“When it comes to Bill, speaking of characters, they broke the mold with him,” he said. “He’s like a great painter and these stages are like his canvases and he takes these actors and creates these masterpieces and he brings the best out of you.”

Virchis called the musical “part of the fabric of America.”

He also described the production as “the shepherds meet ‘Saturday Night Live’” because of its satire.

“It’s political, it’s funny, it’s musical and it’s timely,” Virchis said.

Raul Moncada wrote the original script and mentored Branscomb, who has written the show for 20 years. Virchis has directed 21 of the 22 productions.

Branscomb is a journalism professor at Southwestern College and adviser of The Sun, America’s number 1 ranked college newspaper.

Virchis is a professor emeritus of theater at Southwestern College and one of America’s leading Latino stage directors.

He founded and directed the Sweetwater Union High School District’s visual and performing arts department, which was dedicated to him earlier this year.

La Pastorela has been honored by the National Endowment for the Arts and numerous human rights organizations.

The show runs Dec. 14-16 and 19-22 at 7:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. Dec. 15, 16, 22 and 23 at the Lyceum Theater in Horton Plaza. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students, military and groups, and $7 for children under 12 or groups of 10 or more. For reservations call (619) 544-1000.

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