Although Lisa Loomer's ¡Bocón! is ostensibly a piece of children's theater, its issues are much bigger and more serious than that might imply. The protagonist of this story is Miguel, a boy who is known as a bocón or "big mouth." He lives in a village in Central America at a time of war when speaking out and speaking up are very dangerous things. In fact, Miguel notices that people in his village have a tendency to simply disappear and no one will say where they've gone. Swallowed up by the earth? Taken away by spaceships? How is it possible?
When Miguel's parents are the ones who disappear, the former big mouth loses his ability to speak at all. And so Miguel sets out on a journey to regain his power of speech, but it is a journey filled with spirits, magic, danger and adventure at every turn. Will he make it to Los Angeles? Will he find a way to tell his story and make people hear? What will happen to this child immigrant, one among many set upon American shores?
There is fantasy and mythology in the way Loomer frames her play, which makes it an excellent match with director Cyndee Brown, who has a PhD in theater for young audiences. Brown's cast for ¡Bocón! includes Joshua Pennington as Miguel; Johanna Kerber as La Llorona, the "Weeping Woman" ghost of Central American and Mexican mythology; and Daniel Esquivel, Vanessa Garcia, Natalie Kozelka, Gabrielle Munoz, Samantha Peroutka, Thomas Russell and Nick Scott in multiple roles as the people, animals and spirits surrounding Miguel.
¡Bocón! opens at Westhoff Theatre on the Illinois State University campus on Friday, March 25, at 7:30 pm. Performances continue on the 26th, 29th, 30th and 31st and April 1 and 2 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $10 for students and seniors and $12 for adults, and they are available at the ISU Center for the Performing Arts box office at 309-438-2535 or online at Ticketmaster.
If you would like more information about Cyndee Brown's take on ¡Bocón!, you can listen to her interview with Laura Kennedy at WGLT here.