El Automovil Gris (The Grey Automobile)

  • 90 minutes, no intermission
  • 3 actors, 1 director, 1 technicians
  • Tech Rider available on request

Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes' production of The Grey Automobile is director Claudio Valdes Kuri’s modern staging of a Mexican silent film classic. Following the Japanese Benshi tradition of silent film narration, actors appear live on stage, and along with a pianist, breathe life, voice, and commentary into the silent screen’s black-and-white images. In an artistic tour de force only a handful of actors portray the voices and emotions of the film’s 50-some characters.

The 1919 Mexican silent film The Grey Automobile was the biggest hit of its day. Mixing fiction and reality, it tells the story of “The Grey Automobile Gang" who terrorized Mexico City during the chaos of the Revolution. This 21st classic film with live actors and brilliantly improvised piano music. Inspired by the Japanese Benshi tradition – an actor onstage does all the voices of the characters onscreen – The Grey Automobile takes the audience on a wild, exhilarating ride crisscrossing languages (Spanish, Japanese and English with onscreen subtitles), cultures and time. A disarmingly charming entertainment, The Grey Automobile has received resounding critical acclaim and numerous awards throughout the world.


A Japanese actress and a Mexican actress stand next to a film screen and work within and beyond the great Japanese Benshi tradition of silent film narration, as they narrate The Grey Automobile, a Mexican silent film classic directed by Enrique Rosas in 1919. As the film progresses, the actors make comments and give each character a distinctive voice, playing with language, treading the fine and fascinating line between correct interpretation and misinterpretation generated by the encounter of distant and very different cultures. A pianist also accompanies the film, creating original compositions as well as delving into a battery of Japanese and Mexican silent film scores. His music weaves a dramatic atmosphere around scenes involving a gang of thieves who terrorize Mexican society of 1915.

...highly original performance work with a palpable sense of fun. Certain Inhabitants’ hugely entertaining and provocative version of Automóvil pays homage to the Japanese tradition of "Benshi." Ultimately one leaves marvelling at the way cinema unified and confounded languages. In their wacky, arty polyglot, Certain Inhabitants end up speaking in a universal tongue and confusing everything.

—Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune, Chicago

The past and present meet happily in the stage performance of The Grey Automobile, thanks to the unlimited creativeness of the Certain Inhabitants’ Theatre from Mexico, directed by Claudio Valdes Kuri. 

—Nuevo Herald, Miami

...an ideal exportation product, The Grey Automobile. It works even without understanding the language. It works because the action is simple. It works because the narrators and the pianist know exactly how to use their voices and sounds.

—Christina Tilmann, HKW, Berlin

El Gallo  (The Rooster)

  • 90 minutes, no intermission
  • 6 actors, 1 director, 2 technicians
  • 2 local professional string quartets
  • Tech Rider available on request
  • If you wish to view the full length production of El Gallo, please contact Frontera Arts for link and password. 

Through music, movement and theatre, El Gallo reveals the multiple challenges a composer/director and a group of singers face when trying to mount a new work for a choral competition with two weeks to prepare. El Gallo mixes opera, comedy and surrealist situations to reveal the anxieties that fuel creation, from the audition process through to the climactic concert. The audience plays witness to a rehearsal process beset with insecurities, competition and connection, spanning the physical, emotional and psychological. Throughout, the proceedings are almost entirely sung—in an invented language—and couched in the beautiful original musical/vocal compositions of composer Paul Barker, as well as tunes ranging from Gershwin to Middle Eastern folk songs performed with a live eight piece string quartet. Directed by Claudio Valdes Kure, El Gallo wittily and profoundly conveys the obstacles, fears, and sense of triumph that draw people back to the theatre.

El Gallo can be done in collaboration with up to two eight piece string quartets or with recorded music. 

Paul Barker, Composer

Paul Barker is a composer of many operas and theatre works performed, recorded and televised internationally. He has a particular interest in the voice and has written a book, Composing for Voice (Routledge, 2003). He has also received commissions from the London Mozart Players, London Festival Orchestra, Lontano and Gemini Ensembles, the Brodsky String Quartet and soloists such as Joan Lluna, Tasmin Little and Sarah Leonard for major UK and International Festivals, and has been awarded prizes such as the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize. Two CD’s of his music have been published: Turquoise Swans (Sargasso 2000) and Entre Palabras (Quindecim, 2004). He was for 10 years Artistic Director of Modern Music Theatre Troupe (UK) and for five years for Artistic Director of Optemus (Mexico), and co-founder and first Chair of Opera and Music Theatre Forum. In 2011 he collaborated on a new musical called Sigrún’s Fire with writer Stephen Clark and his opera for children.

There’s no question Kuri and his experimental company Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes are a talented bunch. Every aspect of El Gallo, including the haunting original score by Paul Barker (who also created the made-up language) and the stirring playing of the eight musicians, supports the narrative thrust of the play. ...narratives that are as uproarious, heartbreaking, or melodramatic as the material demands. El Gallo caps On the Boards’ international theater season with a production that delights even as it sometimes mystifies.

—Alice Kaderlan, Crosscut.com, Seattle

La Vida es Sueño (Life is a Dream)

  • 2 hr. 10 minutes, no intermission
  • 14 actors, 1 Artistic Director, 4 tech
  • Tech Rider available on request

Pedro Calderon de la Barca writes the original Life is a Dream in 1636. Thirty years later he enters the priesthood and writes a new version with the same title that chronicles the journey of man who searches for clarity and self knowledge. Calderon, like so many of us in our later life faces his truth through curiosity and self reflection. The text embodies Calderon’s synthesized thought, filled with powerful imagery brought forth by an exuberant allegorical language. This philosophical/theological drama invites and provokes the idea of seeing beyond the immediate, searching for original meaning in symbols that are known to some and obscure to others. 

This little known later version of Life is a Dream is fully realized by the distinctive vision of one of Mexico's foremost theater ensembles, Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes under the direction of it's internationally acclaimed director, Claudio Valdes Kuri. Hailed by the critics, the staging of this innovative production draws its inspiration from sacred geometry and incorporates symbolic traditional dances, Mexican Baroque music and folk songs, and the original beautiful verse connecting the Baroque to the contemporary. The performance by the multi-talented actor/singer/dancer/musician male cast is adept, seamless and versatile making for a magnificent and moving uniquely theatrical experience. 

Life is a Dream shown in all its magnificence overwhelms the spectator. A staging that is essential to see. 

—Hugo Hernández, Milenio, Mexico City

Once again, Valdés Kuri surprises with a reading that approaches the twenty-first century viewer into a text written 500 years ago.

—Hugo Hernández, Milenio, Mexico City

It highlights the power of the group and the undoubted ability of its director. A splendid feast of theatrical maturity.

—Bruno Bert, La Escuela del Espectador, Mexico City