Saturday, May 8, 2010

Dementia – A Play by Evelina Fernandez


By Joe Straw

My wife, lying in a bed at County USC Medical Center and dying of cancer, was taken to the room. We knew what the room meant. And in spite the few short months of prayers and tears, they were taking us there.    

A decision had to be made.  Coming in the next morning to tell her, she interrupted me and said they were looking in on her.  The tile in the ceiling had been moved she said, there was a hole “there this morning and they looked down at her.  She said they spoke Spanish. 

“Well, leave it to you to have angels that don’t speak your language.” I quipped. We both had a nice laugh.

“Why don’t we (and there was a long pause here) celebrate Christmas and New Years at home?”  She shook her head, yes.

Dementia by Evelina Fernandez and directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela is another celebration and a remarkable achievement! Produced by the Latino Theater Company at the Los Angeles Theatre Center and playing through May 30, 2010.

The Scenic Design by Christopher Ash majestically lifts one from the bed and up three levels into the heavens. He bathes us in these magnificent blue nude bodies stretching high above the stage with pictures frames highlighting various parts of the human anatomy.  One can only imagine if our main character decorated his home this way or if the dementia had already set in in his being.

Moe (Sal Lopez) is a man, a gay Chicano man, and a director/writer who wants to live and die in his paradise that is EAST L.A., because as his life would have it, the good life is cruising in a convertible along Whittier Boulevard.

Unfortunately, he is dying of AIDS and the act of death is his emotional countdown to his own sublime observations.   Not completely bedridden he leaves his bed when enthusiastically inspired but not so far away as to terminally distance himself from his oxygen tank. 

His chola pregnant niece Tamara (Esperanza America Ibarra), an angel in her own right, helps him through the disease.  Humiliated, after being wiped, and wearing adult diapers Moe wants to go out in his silk boxers. 

“The end has to be brilliant!” - Moe

Moe lives a life where simple language is inadequate. It has to be expressive, layered with so many levels of truth and only the kind of truth that batters the human condition that strikes a nerve so deep the characters explode with happiness, shame or any other end effect as long as it is dramatic. 

So what better way to witness human frailties and absorb the last ounce of human emotion than with a party of friends?  Not only that, a Going Away for Good Party. After all, death is your last great party, and you might as well be alive to take pleasure in it.  Adjust the lights, turn up the music, grab the Demerol patches and let the visions come as the last night was meant to be. 

Moe’s visions come rather quickly in the way of alter ego Lupe (Ralph Cole, Jr.) a glamorous, magnanimous, fabulous drag queen, and a sparkling guide to the netherworld.  The drag queen entices with lights, fingers, and song to pull Moe into the light with a rendition of “My Life”.  

Only, there’s a problem.   Lupe wants Moe to come with him now, wants to take him to (pick your belief) but the party has just started and Moe is not prepared.

Martin (Danny De La Paz), his best friend since childhood, has left East L.A.  in favor of the west side of town to be a hair stylist to the stars (namely, everyone living on the west side).  He has an important job to do and has promised to pull the plug when the time comes, but only then.  The pressure of not one second before or one second after drives him absolutely mad.

Eddie (Geoffrey Rivas), a former writing partner to Moe, and his wife Alice (Lucy Rodriguez) are having marital problems.  Their lives are in turmoil as Alice has divulged an affair with a younger man 25 years old. They agree to go to the party with reservations on settling their problems at another time.

And of course Moe wants to see all of this and more.  With the help of his friends he slips into his boxers, a stunning evening dress, wig and makeup, and dances until he can dance no more and then disaster strikes when his former wife Raquel (Evelina Fernandez) calls and wants to see him.

The coming of Moe’s death is a great equalizer to those who want to be heard and haven’t found their voice. The smallest of whispers become something of great importance from someone who is dying.  And why would you not want to be a part of this event?

Lopez, as Moe is outstanding by and large getting what he wants and pushing all of the buttons to get there. Outstanding as the performance may be, his reactions to the events unfolding around him seem not have an effect on his leaving.

Rivas as Eddie, also outstanding, is his tormented writer partner coming to the end to get a truth lacking in his recent material sans Moe.  As he is witnessing the death of his friend, he is taking mental notes for new material.

Rodriguez as Alice is having a hard time understanding why her husband wants to see a dying man when there are more pressing problems in their relationship.  A touching portrait of a character that is devastated by a truth that leaves her numb.

Ibarra as Tamara is “plan B” in case Martin doesn’t work out. Compassionate and loving until the end. She gives a charming and witty performance.

La Paz as Martin is the picture of health against the backdrop of Moe. The reasons of “Why him? And not me?” on his mind as he watches his friend slip into unconsciousness.  La Paz is funny and emotional.

Cole, Jr. as Lupe was equally delightful. He has a number of costume changes throughout the night and a number of songs as well.  One of those songs Que Sera Sera is a haunting number from an Alfred Hitchcock’s film the Man Who Knew Too Much plays well into Moe’s dying heart.  One has to question the reasons for the songs and how each song gradually entices Moe to come with him. (That may be my own fault for not understanding the songs in Spanish.)

Beautiful costumes by Nikki Delhomme and wonderful choreography by Urbanie Lucero which works well with Karl Carrasco’s musical direction.

Evelina Fernandez has written an outstanding play that is a simple understanding of death, as one would have it. A simple truth met to enlighten. As the character Raquel she stands and waits for a visual truth to come to her.  So powerful is her stare, moments taking it all in, waiting without the words to say,  “I forgive you.”

Certainly all of the characters go through a catharsis and self-realization brought about by Moe’s imminent demise but here it is displayed as Latina truth.  Inspiring!

Jose Luis stands outside, smoking a cigarette, waiting for tidbits of audience reaction as they leave.  He graciously thanks each and everyone for coming to the performance gathering bits of reactional information from this play that is a celebration of life.  The genius that is Jose Luis is his constant exploration of the human condition: life filled with exaggeration and meaning. 

Valenzuela’s direction leaves no marker untouched.  He explores the physical life of death to great dimensions.  Life, death and afterlife, is either real or imagined.   The first act ended in a song and dance number, which was quite remarkable, but leads us into the second act that seemed to lose a little focus.  It seemed to be more about the other player’s problems and left Moe to stare mostly upstairs where the action was taking place. 

Bring the conflict into the living room/bedroom where it belongs and take it to its flat line conclusion. 

Los Angeles Theatre Center through May 30th, 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment