Thursday, October 8, 2009

Solitude By Evelina Fernandez

By Joe Straw

Solitude Lost Latin Lovers

“Man is the only being who knows he is alone, and the only one who seeks out another.” Octavio Paz.

The Latino Theatre Company presents Solitude at the magnificent refurbished Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown Los Angeles.

From the opening moment of this play, Jose Luis Valenzuela explores the passionate lives of lost Latin lovers. Beautifully written by Evelina Fernandez based on the writings from Octavio Paz’s The Labyrinth of Solitude the 1990 Nobel Laureate in Literature.

The play opens as smoke lazily wafts from the fingers of a lonely dispassionate lover. Blackbird-like dancers moves across the stage in solitude, avoiding each other. Their eyes dart from the blur of one black figure to another never making eye contact. Minds filled with thoughts of another lost love as they move slowly toward a small box, on the floor, what is left, the remains of a forgotten life, someone’s mother.

“The blind cement contains nothing but shadows.”

They wait there, silently focused on the box. The limo driver stands priest-like scratching notes as though he was writing a sermon and then waits patiently for the right moment that never comes. A man collapses with mortal sobs, remembrances, and face down with the weight of the onlookers on his back until he is pulled away. This moment is a visual feast and this play has a number of them.

In short, Solitude is about a successful businessman Gabriel (Geoffrey Rivas) who has let his business interest take him away from his wife Sonia (Lucy Rodriguez) and his mother who he has not spoken to in 20 years. Her cremated remains are now in a small box on the floor. Gabriel is sobbing into the arms of anyone who would have him. “He cries like this all the time,” says childhood friend Johnny (Sal Lopez) who invites himself and the rest of the mourners to Gabriel’s mansion. Sonia is unprepared but aquiest and everyone hops into the limo for the trip to Gabriel’s place for the “last great fiesta”.

And death is the last great party in the celebration of a life. Where old wounds are explored and examined and truths come to life. This party is no exception. Everyone gets inebriated because the housemaid, beautiful lovely charming Juanita, (who is never seen) is on strike and refuses to serve food to the guests.

The limo driver, other wise known as "The Man" (Robert Beltran) invites his cousin Chelo (Semyon Kobialka) who provides beautiful cello music throughout the show befitting the situation. The Man is enamored with Octavio Paz. He loves to quote love and lives to love but is lost when it comes to making that final leap of consummation with Sonia. He stops at the moment he should embrace, hesitant about taking her lips into his.

Ramona (Evelina Fernandez) a former lover to Gabriel brings her son Angel (Fidel Gomez) a Stanford Graduate and son to an unsuspecting Gabriel. It is Ramona’s night to speak the words she has been holding onto for the last 25 years. She is tormented between truth and pride and she allows her pride to overpower her expression of the truth.

And Angel, looking all his life for his father, denies that Gabriel is his father.

This is an inspiring ensemble with Beltran as The Man, Fernandez as the mixed up mother, Gomez as the equally mixed up son, Lopez as Johnny who sings his heart out in a delightful number, Rivas as the powerful businessman, Kobialka as Chelo who plays with heartfelt strings on his cello and Rodriguez (a Culver City resident) who plays the long suffering wife in search of a new life.

Valenzuela’s direction is very stylized. Costumes and hairstyles vary indicating a variety of periods. This was Valenzuela’s choice. It is a version of the Latino confluences over the course of generations showing us the lost world of pre-Columbian and Spanish influences. Valenzuela shows us how characters can be so lonely in a world of fiesta. Lives interrupted, intertwined, together again but so culturally alone one cannot help feel compassion.

Evelina Fernandez’s play lifts Octavio Paz’s images off the page and gives them life with words that are inspiring and beautiful. The play succeeds on many levels but actors need to be clear on commitments and a single objective. Maybe the characters were lost but need to be clearer on why they are lost.

Francois-Pierre Couture, scenic and lighting designer, offers us a challenge the moment we walk into the theatre. His use of the askew picture frame as the proscenium immediately tells us that something is wrong and invites us to come into the home and set the picture right.

Urbanie Lucero’s choreography is quite nice, fits the message, and makes its point without being overpowering.

Solitude spans generations of pre-Columbian and Spanish people living lost in Los Angeles. They are a people of lost souls trying to make sense of the forces of oppression, self imposed or otherwise. Octavio Paz’s words are not the ramblings of a mad man but the quiet observation of familia and we have that in Solitude. Los Angeles Theatre Center – September 9th – October 4, 2009.

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