Saturday, July 7, 2012

Trio Los Machos by Josefina Lopez

l to r) Gilbert Rodriguez (Young Lalo), Larry Costales (Medical Examiner), Adrian Quiñonez (Young Paco), Josh Duron (Young Nacho) and Antonio Perez (Fumigator) - Photo by Martin Rojas

By Joe Straw

The Bracero Program, formally known as the Mexican Farm Labor Program, is an important, yet relatively unknown, piece of U.S. labor history and Mexican immigration history. This guest worker program allowed Mexican laborers to enter and work in the U.S. between 1942 and 1964. The Bracero Program began during World War II when the war effort created labor shortages and continued for another 20 years afterwards. Mexicans mostly worked in agriculture with almost half a million workers participating annually during the peak years of mid-1950s. Ironically the Bracero Program brought workers to the U.S. at the same time that undocumented immigrants were deported to Mexico (in what was infamously called “Operation Wetback”).

Although viewed as a means to control undocumented immigration and as a means to protect workers, historians have documented numerous ways in which the program allowed and furthered exploitation. To participate, the Mexican government provided Mexican workers with permission to participate in the program in communities throughout Mexico but, since demand exceeded available contracts, prospective participants waited long periods in Mexico with no food or accommodations. Once they entered the U.S., workers were processed in centers that supposedly assessed their health as well as subjected them to humiliating inspections, including being fumigated with pesticides under the pretext of protecting U.S. citizens. Although pay was to be protected by contacts, workers were frequently paid miniscule amounts after employers/owners withheld exorbitant amounts for food and shelter. Pay that was withheld from workers to be paid in the future was lost and workers never saw these earnings. Working and living conditions were extremely poor despite contracts that specified adequate pay and working conditions. – Vilma Ortiz, Ph.D. Professor of Sociology, UCLA

The black and white photographs hung neatly against the lobby walls in the Casa 0101 Theatre.  Anguished Latino men stripped naked, shoulder to shoulder, holding farm labor contracts in front of their privates while the land-owners and doctors inspected them for lice and sprayed them with DDT, a known deadly chemical.

The Braceros (strong arm men) accepted this inhumane and humiliating treatment for the right to work in the United States in appalling conditions for as little as pennies a day. They came to work in the fields not knowing the deprivation they would endure.

The Braceros were hastily thrown from the back of pickup trucks to taste the dust of the farms they would labor. The food they harvested was for the war effort.  And for the most part, the harvest was with bare hands, and backbreaking work, in the hot California desert sun.  And to top this off, Grumman Ag Cat crop dusters flew low and dusted the men with once again with pesticides.

And while collecting their meager earnings, the Braceros dreamed of the day when their battles against racism and discrimination would end.  

Trio Los Machos is the story of three men, Braceros, who came to the United States in search of work and, in their journey, they found their dignity, friendship, and love for one another.  Those difficult days gave creation to the songs of love they wrote and sang, love stories from the heart, that helped guide them to a better way of life.  

One can’t help but thoroughly enjoy Trio Los Machos by Josefina Lopez and directed by Edward Padilla.  This marvelous world premier show was produced by Rafael O. Calderon, Andy Carrasco, and Mercedes Floresislas and is now playing at Casa 0101 2102 E. First Street in Boyle Heights through July 8, 2012.

There is a lot to commend about this particular musical with songs made famous by Trio Los Panchos.  And also contributing to the music were original songs by Music Director: Danny Weinstein.

The logistics of this production can only be described as difficult at best.  The music comes first, the musicians must be very proficient with the instruments, the singing must be excellent, and to top this off, this production needs the musicians and singers to be great actors as well. The job is almost insurmountable but Edward Padilla, the director, succeeds on many levels and manages to survive intact.

(l to r) Miguel Santana (Lalo), Claudia Duran (Rosario), Roberto Garza (Nacho) and Henry Madrid (Paco) - Photo by Martin Rojas 

The story starts near the end as the Trio Los Machos protagonists, Paco (Henry Aceves Madrid), Lalo (Miguel Santana), and Nacho (Roberto Garza), are singing badly in a bar much to the dismay of the bar patrons (Andrea Santana, and Antonio Perez).  The singing is so bad, and the mood is so sour, they manage to chase the customers away.

The restaurant owner (Roberto Carlos) is not too happy about what has happened and fires the musicians using a derogatory term.

“Did he call us jotos?”   

Paco has had enough and decides to go off on his own. This sends Nacho off to a seedy bar to lament with a shot of tequila in one hand and a love song in the other.   And it is up to Lalo to bring them back together.  Old habits for this trio over a life span of fifty years diehard.

Lalo arranges a meeting in Mariachi Square in Boyle Heights to patch the insuperable differences in Nacho and Paco’s lives. And as Lalo is scoffing down a bag of corn chips, Nacho and Paco get into a fight. A jostled Lalo ingests an exorbitant amount of chips down his windpipe, only to be saved by the Heimlich maneuver.

As Lalo catches his breath, he gains a new lease on life, and insists on becoming the leader of this leaderless group. His obvious solution is to bring in a young woman singer. But Paco is reluctant in having a women singer because of their past experiences. The other guys veto his objections, especially Nacho, and the next morning, they audition women that can provide new blood to the group.

The first one to audition is a singer (Andrea Santa) who is very bad in voice, speaks and sings very little Spanish, but has a grand and delightful personality.  Next!

You get all kinds in auditions and in the next installment there was a woman in drag (Antonio Perez) who charmed the socks of no one in the room. The heavy beard growth and the unsightly legs gave him away.  Although his Spanish was pitch perfect this was just not meant to be. Next!

The next singer is Rosario (Claudia Duran) who has a better voice, a nice body, and is sexually alluring to Nacho and is immediately hired.  Nacho gets a little carried away and with Rosario’s endorsement and they both wind up in the finer accommodations of a seedy motel room.    

Paco finds out about it and brings Lalo to spy on the lovers.  And when Paco interrupts them, everyone gets into a fight and Lalo is hurt and winds up in a coma in the hospital.  

The coma sends us to the day when Young Lalo (Gilbert Rodriguez), Young Nacho (Josh Duran), and Young Paco (Andrian Quinonez) first meet. Lalo fights with the rancher (Larry Costales) about not getting his full pay. The rancher says that deductions are being saved for their future—something history tells us will not happen. He feels mistreated.  After they are trucked back to Mexico, the braceros get back on the work line, told to undress, inspected, and fumigated.  

Not humiliated enough, when they get off work, they find signs in town that say “No Negroes, Mexicans, or Dogs”.  This leads to them singing on the street and as they do so, people are receptive and throw coins near their feet. They discover they are not “that bad” and use the money to buy a guitar and start a career of singing for a living.  It beats farm work.

Later, Dr. Medina (Jesus Martinez) tells the boys that older Lalo has had a stroke and without medical insurance, Nacho and Paco must take him home. They decide to stay with him until he recovers or they find a solution for his care.  Moments later, they discover an unsavory odor coming from his body and neither of his dear friends want to wipe.

While Young Nacho, Paco, and Lalo sing a song in a bar, they meet the beautiful and talented Aurelia (Rocio Mendoza). She falls madly in love with Paco, much to the dismay of Nacho who falls madly in love with Aurelia. Paco is in love with his music but marries her anyway.

The performers succeeded on many levels and overall it was a very fine cast.

Miguel Santana as Lalo, the mediator of the group, tries to keep the mariachis intact. And he uses every visible means at his disposal to keep the group alive and relevant. He has done something that has kept a certain part of his life away from unsuspecting eyes.  To hide this part of his character could have been accentuated more to give the character more depth. Hidden character traits on stage create a wealth of opportunities. The trick is to creatively find those moments.

Robert Garza was exceptional as Nacho.  Combined with the funny things that he did on stage there was a simple truth to his character, a depth, and a man who cares about the finer things in life, his compadres, his music, and his knees. But he holds a secret that he has not divulged even after fifty years.  Maybe it is his reason for the animosity towards his friend but we need to see those actions that make him feel the way he feels toward a specific character.

Henry Aceves Madrid as Paco worked well as a musician and a singer.  Sometimes I got the feeling that he was trying to find the words, without really having them, and he didn’t seem clear with his objective.  His character can be described as a makebate, causing discord. But there must be a reason for his discord.  More must be made with his relationship to Nacho. He had a motive to want to be on his own but didn’t have a reason.  He has to find the reason. Still, his work was enjoyable.

Gilbert Rodriguez as Young Lalo filled the role completely, as a musician, and an actor.  He has a commanding stage presence, a very nice voice, and a nice way with the guitar. This was an exceptional job.

Josh Duron as Young Nacho does a very fine job, with his instrument, his voice and acting instrument.  Try as he might, he does not get the girl but later in life he gets all the girls much to the dismay of at least one of his partners. Also, Duron has a very nice solo song and dance number.  His makeup made him appear to be ill as it appeared lighter than his actual skin color.  Still, this was a very charming performance.

Adrian Quinonez as Young Paco did a nice job and his strength lies in his acting. He is torn between his wife and his mariachi compadres. And if it is his love for music that destroys his marriage, we really must see how that happens.

Andrea Santana as Ensemble 1 was very funny as the singer with no voice but a lot of heart. Her performance was charming and clever.

Claudia Duran as Rosario was very engaging as the singer and the man-eater.  Wanting the job so much that she has a relationship with one of the men in hopes of furthering her career.  It all ends in a dingy motel room somewhere in Boyle Heights. Duran did a very nice job.

Jesus Martinez plays Dr. Medina examining Lalo after his heart attack.  He sends him home unconscious to fend for himself.  

Larry Costales was fine as the Rancher and Anglo man.

Roberto Carlos is fine as the Restaurant Owner.  The words did not come easy for this musician this night but he did a fine job of getting his point across. Actually his role is an important one that sets the stage for all of the events that follow. More could have been made out of that event and the moments that followed.  Note for Carlos, when you are making a point of firing our trio don’t fire them with your back to the audience.

Rocio Mendoza (Aurelia)

Rocio Mendoza was also exceptional.  She has a marvelous voice, a very nice stage presence, and a wonderful acting range. It is the simple things she does so well and the manner in which she sings a song that make the night soar for her and for us.

Also filing out the cast were Antonio Perez, Angel Perez and Estuardo Munoz who also plays Young Lalo but did not do so the night I was there.  

Josefina Lopez has written a funny and remarkable play that I enjoyed from top to bottom.  There is a history lesson to be learned here but this musical is much more than that.  It is the story of songs and love and heartache. The run is very short but one is sure this will have another life in other venues after Casa 0101.

Edward Padilla, the director, has his hands full on this one, but does a fantastic job nevertheless. More could have been made of the relationships between the three friends, their sexual proclivities, and their fondness as well as their disgust for each other.  But when the day is done, the music was great, the story fantastic, and their lives were wonderful to watch. Padilla also was the Set Designer.

The production staff preformed miracles for this type of production they are:

Stage Manager: Nisha Joshi
Assistant Director: Alma Catalan
Costume Designer: Carlos Brown (Wonderful costumes!)
Asst. Stage Manager: Dianna Martinez
Stunt Coordinator: Garrett Hammond
Sound Design: Ramon Acosta
Projections:  Bianca Uli Estrada (Nice Job)
Avocado Tree Maker: Adan Robles
Light/Tech Designer: Willy Donica
Light Board Operator: Jorge Villanueva
Translator: Mercedes Floresislas
Ramon Mendoza: Carpenter
Soap Design Co: Graphic Design
Publicity: Steve Moyer

Go and take a Bracero who loves to sings the love songs of Los Trio Panchos.  

Also Casa 0101 is always looking for volunteers.  If you’d like to fill a void in your life, please give them a call. 

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