Tuesday, November 2, 2010

La Victima by El Teatro de La Esperanza

By Joe Straw

I’m slightly embarrassed that I’ve lived in Southern California for over 30 years and know a small amount Spanish.

“Si usted quiere evitar la gente el sabado y domingo por favor, lave durante la semana.” – A sign in the Laundromat – author unknown.

When I first moved into Los Angeles I rented an apartment on Westmoreland. It was a singles just north of Pico complete with a fold down Murphy bed and a convenient Laundromat within walking distance. Aside from a half of a semester of 7th grade Spanish in Mrs. Castro’s class in Tennessee, the above phrase was all the Spanish I knew.

I never knew exactly what that sign meant but I memorized it. And on Saturdays I had hours to practice because it took me hours to secure a dryer, especially one that had a tennis shoe flipping in it for what seemed like an eternity. I was a man and a victim of little old ladies that had one goal in mine. “It’s either him or me. And I prefer me.” (“Es él o yo. Y me prefiero.”)

La Victima by El Teatro de la Esperanza (whew!) and directed by the incomparable Jose Luis Valenzuela was presented by Latino Theater Company on Spring Street in Los Angeles. Its closing date was October 31, 2010 in a limited 4 week run.

The Latino Theater Company is celebrating it’s 25th Anniversary by presenting its first production of La Victima. It is something one has to experience to understand and if one understands Spanish, so much the better. Subtitles are really not a way to see a production when one is looking at objectives and facial expressions.

There is an open wall running the length of the set created by Tesshi Nakagawa and it serves as a reminder that political ideology builds walls that do not stand the test of time.

Briefly, circa 1915, the Mexican revolution displaced a number of Mexicans. And to flee the violence they headed north. This is where the story begins.

They lived and loved and had children here in the United States and worked hard for a living. And then came the 1930s and along with that, the Great Depression. Like today Mexicans were used scapegoats, but unlike today half of the Mexicans were deported or “repatriated” across the border.

The tragedy of families being separated is that sometimes they never see each other again and when they do reunite, as in this play, it is a heartbreaking event.

Amparo is a tragic figure. She stands helpless as she is being deported once again. Lost in a tragedy of broken homes as she stands witness to her family’s recurring history. Lupe Ontiveros is wonderful in this performance.

Sammy (Geoffrey Rivas) is an equally tragic figure. Separated from his mother, father, and sister he is left for others to raise him. And in this bitter struggle he forgets his past, serves time in the Army and later he works for the Department of Immigration. He developes a bitter hatred of those who try to enter this country illegally and fights hard to keep “them” out.

Cita as La Cantante provides music where appropriate but her objective was confusing. The music works better when in line with the story.

The Latino Theatre Company has a very fine stable of actors most notably Lucy Rodriguez, Sal Lopez, and Evelina Fernandez who play multiple roles throughout the years from the early 1910s through 1960s that this story takes place.

Other performers were J. Ed Araiza, Luis Aldana, Alexis de la Rocha, Olivia Delgado, Oliver Rayon, and Ricardo Ochoa also in multiple roles.

Jose Luis Valenzuela, the director, lets us in on the history of the events of the Valla family. It is symbolic at times, subtle, and dramatic but one wishes for a heartfelt conclusion to the tragedy. Valenzuela’s dramatic purpose may not have been fully realized but nevertheless his staging was this side of magnificent.

The real tragedy is that we, as a nation, have not made progress on this issue and the cancer of this unresolved issue continues to grow.

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