Nurse Pain is At Large in Panajachel
The Panajachel Players bring mirth, music, farce and Vaudeville to Lake Atitlán.
If you are Dr. Willard Dillard, the sobriety-challenged President of the Herbaceous Succulent Society, it may be hard to cast someone to play you in a skit. After Dillard emerged from the recesses of Barbara Ramey’s gauche imagination, the man tapped to play him decided he was no actor on the eve of the play.
“By some miracle,” says Barbara, “we got word that Bill Mumford was flying back to Guatemala that very night. I exclaimed. ‘There IS a God!’”
Barbara dispatched someone to the airport to snag Mumford as he deplaned. He was lassoed into the part and told that he could not give no for an answer. His fortuitous return to Guatemala saved the show.
Mumford was not only a godsend that night, but one of the original seven Panajachel Players, a troupe wrought into existence through the labors of David and Barbara Ramey.
The Rameys’ passion for the stage is an avocation that consumes their retirement, despite its singular lack of lucre. They do not expect to make any money for themselves, but they hope not to lose any during the 2009 theater season. The Panajachel troupe is, in fact, the fourth, and the most ambitious, theater group that Barbara has formed.
Without an imperative to profit, her artistic freedom is unencumbered and self-actualized. It means that she is free even to write bad plays.
“Last year,” Barbara recounts, “I wrote a bunch of skits that, well, didn’t work so well. And the Players didn’t want to do them. So I came up with some other scripts. And this year, we’re doing a mix of skits and Vaudeville, using local talent.”
If there is any money in the till after the bills are paid, she says, it will go to charity.
Barbara and David are perfect complements. She is a prolific creator whose thread of ideation runs continually, day and night. He is a versatile manager, handyman, set director, stand-by thespian, and anything else that is needed. Barbara is largely a director, and David, a producer.
The couple has become a veritable public utility in Panajachel, the capital of what until recently was a flyover zone for theater arts. Like the three volcanos that dominate Panajachel’s vista across Lake Atitlán, there were Guatemala City and La Antigua to the east and Quetzaltenango to the west—all theatrical pillars—and a great gulf in between. But the Rameys and the Panajachel Players are set to change the artistic landscape.
It was, in fact, this very vista—the lake —that lured the Rameys to Panajachel in the first place. After years of dividing their time between operating an inn in a remote part of Belize and stalking lobsters in Maine, they came, as do so many expats in Central America, to see what the Atitlán Basin was all about.
“We were stricken by the lake,” David recalls. “So much so,” Barbara adds, “that we rushed back to Belize to grab our toothbrushes and a change of underwear and cross back into Guatemala to move here as fast as we could.”
Life in Belize had been interesting enough. They had met and married there and took their guests on exotic excursions. David will never forget his first encounter with a manatee.
“It was huge, like a whale or something,” he says. “I was scared to death.”
The manatees, of course, were not only harmless but docile enough to be hand-fed. The Rameys regret that there are no manatees to be found in the waters near Panajachel. But a huge well of talent, they say, is to be found in the town.
“Pana and the lake area have long been ripe for a proper troupe,” Barbara explains. “There’s huge enthusiasm here for plays, and there are gobs of local talent, just waiting to be tapped.”
A Panajachel rendition of Mel Brooks’ The Producers provoked a soccer-fan stampede of interest in 2008. It was sold out even before the publicity aired, with expats, Guatemalans, and even tourists all adding their names to audience waiting lists. Among the local talent is Barbara’s star understudy, gringa masseuse Jennifer Martin, whom she calls “brilliantly comic” in roles such as wacky dental assistant “Nurse Pain.”
Nurse Pain will be one of many draws at the troupe’s March 20-22 production, which has become an annual extravaganza. There will be Friday and Saturday night showings, plus a Sunday matinee for, says Barbara, “kids and older people, and anyone else who doesn’t like to be up late.” The skits and the musical portions will be punctuated by kooky banter between a “master of ceremonies” and “Hilda,” a cleaning woman.
David calls the production a great entertainment value. “Except for German musician Chris Jarnoch, everyone, including us, is working for free. So the admissions will be affordable to anyone. At the same time, we want this to be a classy event, perhaps the one thing that happens in Panajachel that you put on a tie for. And something people will look forward to.”
The Rameys, now settled in Panajachel, will be visiting the United States on the following weekend. But they are encouraging the troupe to hold a weekend of encores if the demand is at expected levels.
They hope that the Panajachel Players will operate not only when the couple is physically present to direct and produce, but also during those months that the Rameys are absent from the community.
“The show can go on without us,” Barbara says. “That it happens at all is what really matters.”
For more information about the March production, see DateBook (dates: 20-22).