Review: “Tomás and the Library Lady” at Zach Theatre makes reading entertaining

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Benjamin Bazan (Tomás) and Claire Stephen as The Library Lady. in Zach Theatre's bilingual Tomás and the Library Lady. Credit: Kirk Tuck

“Tomás and the Library Lady,” Zach Theatre’s theater for all play based on the Pat Mora book, does a great job at making reading come to life.

The bilingual play, adapted by José Cruz González, is the story of Tomás Rivera, who was born in Crystal City to migrant farm workers. One year when the family took work in Iowa, he met a librarian who helped him learn to love reading. Rivera later became the chancellor of the University of California at Riverside.

For this production, Zach Theatre is working with University of Texas at Austin theater and dance department. Director Tamara Carroll is getting her master’s degree there and this staging is her thesis production.

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Benjamin Bazan (Tomás) and Claire Stephen as The Library Lady. in Zach Theatre’s bilingual Tomás and the Library Lady. Credit: Kirk Tuck

One day, while sent to town to mail a letter, Tomás finds the library and the librarian invites him inside. She helps him learn how to read in English and he teachers her Spanish.

Much of the stories he reads or the family tells are illustrated not just with the actors, but with videos projected on screens above the set. The whimsical illustrations help the otherwise sparse set come to life.

Three actors play all the parts, and the audience sometimes gets to see the costume changes. Martinique Duchene, who plays the mother, transforms into the grandfather by adding a bandana shaped like a mustache. Benjamin Bazan transforms from Tomás to his father by the addition of a hat. The two UT students who share the role of the library lady Claire Stephen and Kathleen Brown, take off a skirt and scarf to become Tomás’ brother Enrique, and they put on a black shirt, black coat and glasses to become the evil teacher.

All three actors become narrators to introduce the story and to move the story along. At times, some of the narration feels a little heavy handed, but luckily the play does not rely on too much narration.

The play is easy to understandable for English speakers and for mostly Spanish speakers. The audience I saw it with were preschoolers and elementary school kids, split pretty evenly between Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites. This led to some of the Spanish jokes having certain kids laughing hysterically while others had to catch up, which was an interesting turn of events. It further emphasized what it might be like to live in a world where you cannot understand what is being said, just as Tomás experience in his former school with the teacher who insisted on English-only.

“Tomás and the Library Lady”

For ages 5 and up.

When: 2 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 14.

Where: Whisenhunt Stage, 1510 Toomey Road.

Tickets: $12 children, $16 adults. zachtheatre.org.

Special events:

Author Pat Mora question-and-answer session. The author will be here for the 2 p.m. Feb. 13 show with everyone in the audience getting a free book, in partnership with Center for the Book.

Special autism/sensory friendly show 11 a.m. Saturday. The house lights will remain up, the sound will be lower, glow sticks will signal something upsetting might happen and there will be special places for breaks from the show.

More on Zach’s bilingual program

Read past stories and reviews online at austin360.com:

“Tomás and the Library Lady,” story 

“Cenicienta” review, story

“Salt & Pepper” story


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