The African stories that Pepe Carril wove into his episodic 1969 play “Shango de Ima” are given a straightforward but colorful presentation in Rome Neal’s production at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Even those not usually delighted by the simplicity of folk tales might find themselves charmed by the infectious enthusiasm of the ensemble.
Although its origins lie in the Yoruban oral legends, from west Africa, of the seven African Orishas, or deities, “Shango” was put on paper by Carril, a Cuban playwright, when he led Havana’s national theater, the Teatro Nacional de Guinol, in the 1960s. The rich Afro-Caribbean blend is very much in evidence here.
The play essentially is a condensation of abridged versions of the legends, strung together with African music and dance to tell the life story of Shango, a sort of Yoruban Everyman. Shango, a vain character who’s not always sympathetic, sets out on his life’s journey to find his father and encounters any number of gods, women and adventures in both battle and love.
These are simple tales, often humorous in a broad, unsubtle way. Neal’s staging doesn’t embellish, allowing the fine actors — particularly the scene-stealing Robert Turner as a demonic spirit of death — to find the comic universality in the naivete. The production itself is spare, making good use of colorful silks that serve as river currents, backdrops and whatever else might be called for. Director Neal knows full well that to overstate the modest spells of these stories would be to undermine them.