Monday, November 7, 2011

Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy – by Evelina Fernandez

By Joe Straw

Growing up in a military family, there were seven of us in all, mother, father, two sisters, two brothers, and me. Unfortunately, my father was always on army maneuvers, even when there weren’t any maneuvers.  Gone most of the time, his true attention was to the art of deception.  And this deception included having children with multiple women on various continents while my mother was giving birth to, and caring for, the five of us. Once the truth came out, the marriage didn’t last and the family disintegrated.   

Many things are lost when a couple divorces.  There is a loss of stability, a loss of wealth, and a loss of the simple things like putting enough food on the table.  It is an overwhelming situation where hope is buried in the cavernous recesses of our dreams.  

But, hope is a matter of perspective.  And I’ve come to the conclusion that not everyone hopes for the same thing. Marriage starts with raging optimism.  But then come the children: what’s best for them, disagreements, infidelities, and of a broken trust that starts a downward spiral that one can only hope to recover.  

The Latino Theater Company presents Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy written by Evelina Fernandez and directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela.  Hope is a wonderful musical with the very difficult themes of infidelity, unwanted pregnancy, attempted suicide, and spousal and child abuse.

Hope is a grand exploration of Mexican American life.  And yes, all American families are now and have always included Latinos.

There is a lot to love about this musical, starting with the set by Scenic Designer Francois-Pierre Couture.   The set is a 1960’s version of a family home in Phoenix, AZ.  It is, in fact, a structure one would find out in the desert with three windows looking out into the expanse of despair.  Blinds open to colorful rooms of life and shut quickly when moments escalate out of control.  

Projected off the walls of the house are images of life in the sixties.  These are the unfocused video images of a time not quite remembered, but eventually fully realized as the time comes back into focus.  And shadows of daily life are also projected on the walls displaying family secrets of brutal beatings, too brutal to show to sympathetic viewers.  

And through the horror of kept family secrets there are the surrounded whispers of infidelity, of hunger, desperation, and the need to grab the one “thing” that give them what they desire, hope.

Briefly the story is about a Mexican American family living in Phoenix, Arizona. The mother, Elena (Dyana Ortelli), is trying to keep a handle on her four teenage children, who for the most part are as good as teenagers can be, but a bit unruly.  

Gina (Esperanza Ibarra), the oldest teenager, is the “mean” sister who doesn’t smile and chases her siblings around with her shoe. She is also the smartest, and takes great pride in knowing a multitude of facts.  

Betty (Olivia Delgado) is an idealist with a highly active imagination. She places and receives calls from President John F. Kennedy and Fidel Castro and believes she is helping to save the world.

The boys are Johnny (Keith McDonald) and Bobby (Dru Davis).  Johnny is a would-be ladies man and gets along with his father while Bobby, the youngest, has little in common with his father.  And being the baby of the family, Bobby is doted on by his mother.

Carlos (Geoffrey Rivas), the father, is gone for extended periods of time.  He comes back only to plead forgiveness for his misgiving but denies being unfaithful.  And he also comes back to beat his children when they say the slightest disrespectful remark.

While Carlos is away, Elena is seeing a friend Enrique (Sal Lopez) and through him tries to understand the ways of men.  But it’s not difficult to see that Enrique wants to be a part of Elena’s life.

Meanwhile Rudy (Sam Golzari) has taken a liking to Gina.  He tells her that he wants to be her boyfriend.  Gina sees nothing coming from this or any relationship and she can barely put up with him.  Still, he conveniences her to be his boyfriend for “two weeks”. Just enough time before he goes into the army.  Just enough time for, what?

Dad comes home just in time to beg forgiveness and then start in on his brutal campaign of beatings, which sets the ball in motion for the multitude of tragic events that follow.

The book of Hope is interspersed with the wonderful music of the sixties sung beautifully by this strong cast of singers and actors. Wow! I think I’ve hit the jackpot here.  This is a dream-of-a-show from which I do not want to be awakened.  Jose Luis Valuenza, the director, has gathered some remarkable actors for this musical, all who have very strong voices. 

The show includes the songs, Dedicated to the One I Love, Love Hurts, Mister Sandman, Piel Panela, Please Mr. Postman, Rico Vacilon, Shout, You’ll Love a Good Thing.

Geoffrey Rivas as Carlos does a wonderful job as the philandering husband. And, as the character, he tries his best to pull it all together but in the end, the lies catch up to him. Without the focus of family on his mind, he is a lost man.  This was a very enjoyable performance, despite the despicability factor.

Dyana Ortelli as Elena does a very nice job in the role of the long-suffering wife. It is easy to get caught up in somebody else’s dream and not realizing his dream is not worth living. As the character she is as faithful as faithful can be but there must be an opening, a glimpse, to show us she is ready to jump ship.  Her plan, nonexistent when the play starts, must be executed during the course of the show.  And it is a plan we must see, her hope.

Sal Lopez as Enrique (or Kiki), compadre to Elena and Carlos, does a wonderful job in a very nice role.  Silently he slips around as a friend to the family while in his heart he longs for the woman of his dreams.  His love for her overflows like the tap on the beer bottle that brings the foam rising over the top and onto the floor.  His emotional wants bring them closer together, step by step, like a little dance, until the dance gets out of hand.

Esperanza America Ibarra as Gina is absolutely wonderful in this role. She is very sympathetic as the older sister who has helped raising her brothers and sister.  And as the older sister, she is smart, loving, and full of spunk.  Still, having to look after the miscreants that are her siblings, wear on her.  And seeing her mother, do the unthinkable with another man, causes her to go places no one wants to go. This is a very heartfelt performance that will be remembered for sometime to come.   

Sam Golzari as Rudy also gave a wonderful performance as the boyfriend to Gina. His moments on stage rang true and there was a lot of depth to his character. His love for Gina had no bounds and that love was very visible on stage.  Finding a way to be physically closer to Gina in the letter-writing scene would only add to an already wonderful performance.

Dru Davis as Bobby has a phenomenal voice and was very sympathetic as the young son that has little in common with his father.  He takes great pride in standing up to his father no matter the cost. And this is actually a role where you want to hear more singing from Davis. His voice is that magnificent!

Olivia Cristina Delgado as Betty was very cute and did a marvelous job. One really appreciates the on-stage relationships that she creates with both JFK and Fidel Castro.

Keith McDonald as Johnny is a typical teenage boy, unfocused. He spends his current life thinking what girls are thinking about him and how they would be oh-so-lucky to have him. That aside, it is a role that could grow, including making the relationships stronger on stage, not paying so much attention to the fourth wall, and paying more attention to others on stage.  Finding a significant objective would help.  Still, it is only a small quibble to a very nice performance.

Jose Luis Valenzuela, the director, has created a visually exciting show. It moves at a very nice pace and is remarkable in purpose.  This is a family on the verge of collapse.  And it is a musical about love, loss of love, and making right out of what is so very wrong.  Everything one could hope for in a musical extravaganza.  There are moments that could be revisited, tightened on the topic of hope. For example: a dream of hope in another state should propel them off the stage into the new land of opportunity so that we as audience member can’t wait to see “Faith” and “Charity”.   Still, overall, this was a wonderful show!

There is a truth, a sincerity, that lives and breaths Evelina Fernandez’s words. She has written a show that is marvelous in it’s own right.  She takes us back to a period most of us remember and she does it with a sense of style and grace.  She introduces us to a family that must suffer the through the indignities of separation, divorce, and the breakup of a family.  But with the family in pain they march on, and with heads held high they look westward, to California, for their inspiration, and their hope.

Ben Crippin Taylor was the Musical Director of the show and did a very nice job.  I loved the music!

The Movement Coordinator was Urbanie Lucero and the Costume Design credit goes to Raquel Barreto.  Cameron Mock did the Lighting Design and John Zalewski did the Sound Design.

Run to see this production.  Bring a friend who has problems understanding the lives of ordinary Mexican Americans and Latinos.

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