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Traveling companies bring in Latin theater

Not one but two touring companies with a Latin bent are coming to Queens.

The Queens Museum of Art and the Latin American Cultural Center host the comedy “How Happy Barbies Are!” presented in Spanish with English synopsis by the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre and Teatro Circulo at the QMA at 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18. — outdoors for free.

The musical comedy explores the struggles of a Latina woman as she tries — in vain — to be as beautiful and perfect as the Barbie doll she remembers from childhood. When her husband leaves her for another woman — a Barbie look-alike, of course — she vows vengeance on her cruel world where women are viewed as commodities.

The play was written by award-winning actress Wanda Arriaga, who also stars in the production.

The next day, Sunday, Aug. 19, the Pregones Touring Puerto Rican Theater presents “The Ballad of Maria Sabida” at 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19 in the Santiago Iglesias Educational Society’s Electrical Industry Auditorium in Flushing.

“The play is based on a short story about how the strength of one woman can multiply and make the whole town strong,” said Pregones’ assistant director, actress and director Rosalba Rolon. “We’ve worked with the writer, Judith Ortiz Cofer, before, and she learned the story as a child. It has an ornate score of music and songs, and it’s a show for children and parents and young people.” “Maria Sabida” was performed earlier this month at Pregones’ Bronx location.

“We’re going into our 23rd year,” said Rolon, who was a co-founder along with Luis I. Melendez and David Crommett. “We wanted to be able to develop the kind of company that would have a specific style and voice in the city. It would be an all Latino company but would be accessible to the whole community. It’s a touring company so people wouldn’t have to leave their towns and go to Manhattan to see theater. With time we realized we needed our own space and we established our base in the Bronx at 149th Street and Walton Avenue.”

The company now has an option to buy the building and create a new theater company. “Once we get the building, we want to expand our production season at home and provide stability to the company,” Rolon said. Right now Pregones has a staff of seven, with Jorge Merced as the company’s director. He’s also the director of the theater and educational programs.

The company, which tours four months out of the year, uses a mix of writers, including Manuel Ramos Otero, and Luis Rafael Sanchez. The productions are free and usually outdoors. Pregones has a solid repertoire of plays, one-event engagements called run-outs, and short and long term residencies. Their Main Stage program runs from late fall to early summer and develops and premiers productions at their home base and in collaboration with other New York theaters. They also collaborate with other artists and companies, including Junebug Productions from New Orleans, which helped create the musical “Promise of A Love Song” (co-written by Rolon) which is now on national tour. They also created La Ruta Panoramica with the Asociacion de Musicos Latino Americanos, Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion, and GALA Hispanic Theater. It’s the first network of Latino presenters on the east coast.

Pregones also enjoys support from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council of Arts and New York City; the performance of “Maria Sabida” is sponsored by the JPMorgan Chase Summer Arts Series.

The Santiago Iglesias Educational Society’s Electrical Industry Auditorium is at 158-11 Harry Van Arsdale Ave. in Flushing.

Reach Qguide writer Arlene McKanic by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

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