Sunday, February 17, 2013

I Don’t Have To Show You No Stinking Badges – by Luis Valdez



By Joe Straw


In theatre, the stage is always now, a place in a conflicted moment, of life and death decisions. Actors on stage bring their past and that makeup is the essence of the character’s conscious being.

An actor is a creature that is divinely driven by demons.

Creative satisfaction is a myth, and yet actors must be ruthless in their attempts to get there. - Narrator

Different casts and directors have various interpretations of the same play - intentions are changed - actors and directors make their own choices - but generally it’s the same play, in another format. Luis Valdez might have had another version of the play in mind when he wrote it 25 years ago.

All of which leads to the question: Is this a real family or a TV family?  And after reading the play (available at Amazon.com), I’ve come to understand: they are not a real family, but rather actors playing in a sitcom.  I will focus my comments with that perspective in mind.

Casa 0101 presents I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges written by Luis Valdez, and directed by Hector Rodriguez. This show was produced by Emmanuel Deleage & Frances E. Chang under Casa 0101 Artistic Director Josefina Lopez.

The play, superbly written by Luis Valdez, has a sitcom family, the Villa family, acting on a stage within the three walls of a TV studio, with a live studio audience—us.  But Hector Rodriguez, the director, has clearly made a choice to not accentuate the sit-com aspect of the play, and by the time we understand what’s going on, it is too late.  This is not a vision I am enamored with but I’ll let the theatre-going public make their own determination.

It’s pretty simple; Luis Valdez has written a sitcom within a play about a modern American Latino Family—mom, dad, and kid off to college.

I think, in order for us to understand the play, we have to go to the fictitious preproduction meeting, - the seed that created this life…  

FADE IN: TV CONFERENCE ROOM – DAY

An Anglo creative dream team comes together to develop the next Sanford and Son for their growing Latino television market.

 “…The Latino dad’s got to have a problem. Wait a minute, I’ve got it; he drinks, because all Mexicans drink. And he’s had that problem for years, but now he’s cutting back. He’s trying to be good; he only has twelve beers every night. That’s funny! And he’s got to be funny! What kind of job does he have, anyone? 

(timidly) He was in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre? He is the last extra, camera left, right behind the horse?

Extra! That’s funny!  

And, well, later he works for Spielberg.  He’s the first extra eaten in Jaws.

Wasn’t that the girl? 

No, it was before her. 

Funny!

And he has these crazy ideas of being a Mexican filmmaker in Hollywood?

Fun knee! 

He’s got to be doing something else; he can’t support himself as an extra.  Anyone?

He owns a Mexican restaurant.

My eyes are getting heaaavy!

A Chinese restaurant?

Ahhhhh. 

A Chinese-Mexican restaurant!  

Perfect, dim sum and then some, frijoles! Funny! What about the mom?  Anyone?

Well, she’s an extra too!  No, no, no, she’s a real actress who doesn’t do equity waiver theatre because she likes getting paid for working.  And she doesn’t like sex. 

A Mexican who doesn’t like sex?  I’m not following you.

No, no, no, no, she likes sex but not with her husband?

Ohhh, now that’s funny!

She’s trying to move up in the movie business from playing housemaids to something more substantial?  A madam with beautiful sex workers all around her! 

Funny. 

And she’s a strong woman. She has to be in order to keep her husband’s drinking in line, one, and B; she wants a career of her own because they can’t live on his extras salary. She sells real estate, because everyone does that in California.  

Funny!  What about their kids?

They have an older daughter. 

Good. 

And she’s different. 

Yes?

She’s a pediatrician.

Nice!  And the boy? 

He’s got to be smart too.

I’m listening. 

He’s a precocious 16 years old who is studying at….?  Harvard! PRE LAW! But, he’s kind of goofy, shows up back home, and has a bizarre idea about being in the movies. 

Fun neee!

What about the love interest, for the kids? 

He’s just sixteen.

He’s Mexican right?  

Goes without saying.  And he’s got an Asian girlfriend!

Exotic Japanese market, uh hum, uh hum, uh hum.   

Only she’s twenty-six, a Valium addict, (Valley of The Dolls) and… doesn’t know he’s sixteen.

Ohhhhh, I think we’ve got it.  I smell a hit.  All right you knuckleheads, get out there and write it!

Wait a minute.  Are there any Latino writers on staff?  

What do we need them for?  

We don’t need no stinkin’ Latino writer. What was I thinking?  Will somebody shoot me?” 

FADE TO BLACK

My apologies for getting carried away, but you get the picture.

The play, set in 1985 and in Monterey Park, California, starts with this marvelous opening. Buddy Villa (Daniel E. Mora) is asleep watching Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  He dreams that someone—his son, Sonny (Alex Valdivia)—steps into the room in a directors outfit, plans out shots, and when Buddy reaches out to him, Sonny kisses him on the forehead and leaves.

The following morning, Connie Villa (Carmelita Maldonado) is on the phone with her agent trying to negotiate jobs for the both of them but she secretly wants to go alone to Costa Rica for a film role.

Buddy comes in after a morning run and heads straight for the refrigerator for a beer.

“Beer, hombre? It’s still morning.” – Connie

“Gotta replace my body fluids.  Would you believe I just ran five miles?” – Buddy

“No.” – Connie

“Okay.  Would you believe three miles?” – Buddy

Buddy, feeling exceptional, wants a little from the señorita but she’s not having any of his amorous advances.

Quickly changing the subject, Connie says that she’s gotten a letter from their daughter, Lucy (not seen), a pediatrician who lives and works in Phoenix.

Buddy tells Connie about the dream that Sonny is home and directs them in a film.  And Buddy has these wild story ideas about a sombrero looking spacecraft in a star wars picture with Space Migras chasing the sombrero back to earth.

Connie thinks his stories are trash and as a symbolic gesture gives him the trash to take outside so he can throw both away.  She also lets it slip that Costa Rica is a perfect place to shoot.

“Okay.  Then let’s talk about the Nicholson movie.” – Buddy

“So that’s what eating you.” – Connie

“I know damn well you really want to do it.” – Buddy

“Betty says I still have a good chance at the part of the madam.” - Connie

“Another Mexican whore?” – Buddy

“Of course not, she’s Costa Rican!” - Connie

Buddy is adamant about working together when the work is out of town, either they both are offered jobs, or neither goes alone.  That argument is put on hold when Betty calls and they are offered a job as a maid and a gardener.  The self-proclaimed “Silent Bit King and Queen” hustle themselves out of the house and over to MGM studio for a Dallas taping.

While they are gone their son, Sonny, makes a grand entrance, turns on his taping device and starts recording.  Caught in his own imaginative world, he is unaware of Anita Sakai (Elizabeth Pan) coming into the house.

Anita tells Sonny, the long trip from Cambridge has left Peugeot terminally, dead. She has a brother, a turf doctor, living in Pacific Palisades who will pick her up, so it is the end of the road for them.  But when Anita calls her brother, he is out of town.  Sonny doesn’t want her to leave and offers her a room for the night. Anita doesn’t like the idea.

“Symbolically, you’re the distillation of everything beautiful in my life.” – Sonny

“Symbolically? – Anita

Still, she accepts his offer and goes upstairs to take a shower taking a Valium or two in the process to take the edge off of her life’s predicament. Sonny has not told Anita that he is 16 years old.

Meanwhile Sonny takes out his recorder and makes notes about the dilemmas in his life and the events he has gone through at Harvard when his parents drive up.

The rest of the story, about life in a sitcom, is about the relationship of the four and the reasons why Sonny has left Harvard.  Valdez’s play under Rodriguez’s direction gets a little too serious with the events that unfold in the second act.

I have some notes.

No matter how many times an announcer says, “turn off your cell phones”, they still keep going off. On this particular night, when the actors were hitting their stride a xylophone ring went off on an iphone. “Dink, dink, dink, dink dink da dinka dink, dink dink dink dink dink da dinka dink” before it was turned off.  What little momentum the actors had at that moment was now completely lost. I think the actors should stop rather than continue.  (I would like to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.)  

The actors, on this night, brought little of the rich characters that are the makeup of Luis Valdez’s play.  There were moments that were exceptional but overall the characters were not fully realized and actions were not taken to the level they need to be.  A few more rehearsals and more stage time under their belts and the show should do just fine.

Luis Valdez has a lot to say about Hollywood and the lack of Latino representation.  Maids and gardeners of 1985 are now gangbangers and single unwed mothers living on welfare. Not much has changed since 1985.  This play takes a look at the business aspect of a sitcom and how things can go horribly wrong when things are not kept light.

Hector Rodriguez, the director, doesn’t make it clear that we are watching a sitcom and that a character in that sitcom has gone overboard to give a dramatic portrayal of the life as a cholo in Monterey Park.  Situation comedies have dramatic elements but are usually not dramatic. Rodriguez does little to have us believe this is a TV studio, symbolically or otherwise. Rather, we have to accept that this is real life, that the gun being fired at the police is real, that the trouble the boy gets into is real, etc. This is not appropriate if we are to believe this is a sitcom.   This play has to have characters that are TV actors in a sitcom, as well as real people performing in a play. All directors have choices, and some choices are better than others.  The director has to put his mark, the through line, on this production. With directors, theatre is about breaking rules with your own perspective, but if you are breaking those rules, your choices must be emphatic and specific.  

Alex Valdivia as Sonny Villa has a good look but doesn’t grasp the character or the meaning of the play.  He has not found the core of the character.  He is well beyond the 16 years old that he is supposed to be playing and usually, in theatre, this is not a problem.  His problem is finding the elements of the character that make him sixteen. And in the confines of a TV show, there are a number of elements that make up the character. Instead, there is a lot of primping and posing without the character having a clear objective that he desperately needs. Using Stanislavski’s “what if”, what if he is the producer of the show, as well as the star, and the written material is not working.  He starts taking the material in another direction.  The other actors would either follow along or rebel.  This seems to fit with the written material and might give him a little more to work with.   

Carmelita Maldonado as Connie Villa has some very fine moments on stage and I think she was hitting her stride when the phone went off.  Maldonado has a better understanding of the sitcom within the play.  Still, her character can go a lot farther, in her sexuality, her love for her son, and the jealously of an intruder. There is a lovely moment when her son is lying dead on the floor after being riddled by police gunfire, and Connie steps over him. I guess she got tired of his bad sitcom acting and is playing it as she rehearsed it, in character, of course.

Daniel E. Mora as Buddy Villa also has some fine moments on stage.  The imitations on stage are quite good, the Chinese voice, Nigel Lopez, and others.  But his relationship with Sonny, Connie, and especially Anita really don’t go far enough or are sufficiently believable for this type of venue. Buddy does not have a clear objective.  Mora’s character choices are fine, but there is no delineation of the actor on stage and the real person having to deal with another actor who is out of control.  Also, it is not a good idea to speak dialogue with Shirley Bassey singing Goldfinger in the background, Shirley Bassey wins every time and the dialogue is lost.

Elizabeth Pan as Anita Sakai has a very nice technique on stage and knows her craft. Her entrance needs a lot of work. When she enters she seems to be just a neighbor dropping by rather than Sonny’s lover.  As the character, Anita has unlimited possibilities and can go farther in her relationship with the other men in this production.  Why shouldn’t she make more of her relationship with Buddy?  He is infatuated with Asian women. And Sonny is another matter.  After all, she has just had sex with a minor, and when she finds out, nothing happens. And what in her character makes her take Valium? As the character, Anita needs to find what drives her in the final stages of the show, how she deals with Sonny, rather than sitting back and letting things happen.

Joe Camareno was exceptional as the reporter.  The newscast was exceptional and modern day in appearance and execution.

It’s funny, not one of the actors, took a moment to look at the director and ask for his help in moments that were not rehearsed.  It happens all the time in Hollywood.

Other members of the staff were:

Set Designer – JR Bruce
Lighting Designer – Sohail e. Najafi
Sound Designer – Bill Reyes
Costume Designer – Carlos Brown
Prop Master – Matthew Sanchez
Video Specialist – Claudia Duran
Casting Director – Edward Padilla
Stage Manager – Jennifer Perez
Assistant Stage Manager – Mario Alvarado
Webmaster – Mark Kraus
Graphic Design – Soap Design Co.
Poster Painting – Francisco T. Norzagaray
Production Photographer – Ed Krieger
Press Representative – Steve Moyer Public Relations

Go and take a friend that loves the movie business.

Reservations:  e-mail Tickets@casa0101.org


Box Office:  323-263-7684




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