Moises Salgado can relate to the title character in “Tomas and the Library Lady,” a family drama that opens Friday at the Rose.
The play is the true story of a boy whose impoverished family came from Mexico. Each year they travel from Texas, where they harvest winter crops, to Iowa, where they harvest summer crops.
Tomas is befriended by an Iowa librarian who introduces him to the world of books and helps him learn English as she learns Spanish from him. The play is based on a book by Pat Mora.
The real Tomas Rivera, who went on to become chancellor of the University of California at Riverside, remembered being afraid of a teacher who chastised him for speaking Spanish. That rang a bell for Salgado.
“When I came to the United States, they kept saying, 'No Spanish,'” said Salgado, who was a university-trained actor in Mexico City before moving to Omaha in 2002 to be with his brother. His first jobs here were in restaurants.
At the Rose, Salgado is playing Tomas' father and grandfather. He said the part of the dad is also easily relatable. In Omaha he married and now has a daughter, Aura, and a son, Ilan. Like his character, he said, he thinks of his children first.
“I'm always worried about doing the best for my kids,” he said. Salgado has started and sold two restaurants and a lunch-truck business during his time in Omaha and Bellevue.
“Tomas lives in me, he's teaching me,” Salgado said. “I learn English and try to be a better person, like this little boy.”
Scenic designer Brad Carlson said his challenge is to reflect the story of Tomas without words. He's using a projection screen, tucked into the arch of the library entryway, to reflect some of what's inside Tomas' head.
He's using still and moving visual images to represent locations, rather than build more scenery.
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