Friday, March 29, 2013

Melancholia by The Latino Theater Lab

L - R Fidel Gomez, Ramiro Segovia

By Joe Straw

In the early morning hours of 9/11, my mother, extremely pale and imperceptibly trembling, was having a heart attack.  An ambulance rushed her to the local hospital. 

The doctors evaluated her condition and inserted a needle into a vein in her leg.  The needle was attached to a tube and that was attached to a pump that kept her blood moving.  She was then rushed into a waiting ambulance that sped off to a Chattanooga hospital that specialized in open-heart surgery.

Her chances of survival, on this day, were faint.

But she survived 9/11 and told me, from her bed, about dark shadows slipping in and out of the room - the day before and during the event.  She said they were around her, observing, coming in and out beneath door frames and baseboards of the room, sometimes staying a little longer, an ominous and frightening dark energy.   

There were a lot of long, dark, shadows cast on the morning of September 11, 2001, enough to put a nation into a state of melancholia from which we have yet recovered or have even seen a faint glimmer of light.

The Latino Theater Company presents Melancholia by The Latino Theater Lab and wonderfully directed by José Luis Valenzuela.  Melancholia is a pictorial delight, a night of non-stop images in motion, color, light, and shadow, pasted and received into our emotional conscious being, a masterful job of imagery on stage.    

Exposed by the exquisite brilliance of an incandescent bulb, Tar (Fidel Gomez) and Skittles (Alexis de la Rocha) sit on a table, brooding, motionless.  Dressed for a night in the theatre, he in pale complexion, and staring placidly at the mundane.  Skittles takes delight in a piece of popcorn and tries to goad him into a fantasy she is playing.  Tar is not biting which results in a lurid glare, and then back again, faced down on her elbows.

But, both were nauseated by the mundane and needed to have a game, a twist, and a way of dealing with a certain reality.  Shakespeare was a way, but they couldn’t decide if it was Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet.  He Hamlet – She Juliet.  And Lord knows, she just can’t identify her Shakespeare’s quotes - even the easy ones.  

“You’re never going to get your Shakespeare straight!” - Tar

They wailed about their differences – “We said theatrical and non-linear!” - while waiting for what they knew would be coming.

And come they did in inexorable serried ranks of camouflaged and battered boots.  

Soldiers KIA ponderously marched into their sepulcher, their bodies of soundless life piled onto a table one by one in an entangled mass of flesh and bones, quietly heaped in a mournful stillness, but piled with a respectful admiration.  In total, including this day, the number exceeds four thousand.

Ramiro Segovia

Their physical treatment was respectful, but their names, when brought back to life, were shouted like paper thrown out to us, in a vacuum, too fast to catch, littering - like the fragments of information mistakenly eyed from a single column of our local paper with Latino names of Hernandez, Martinez, Ortiz, and Gonzales - all dead, and all under the age of thirty.

"That's what war does to the poor.  Accept it!" 

Tar and Skittles salvaged the night until the time came to excavate and push the frightened rudimentary souls into the light.   

But there is always a problem here, there, everywhere they are.  And every day has its exception: Mario Cruz Gonzales age 20. A live figurine, in military garb, painted or photographed in three emotional and physical states (Sam Golzari, Xavi Moreno and Ramiro Segovia), not knowing whom they are or where they are going.  But one thing is certain: this is not their destination. Religious rubrics do not allow this.  

Tar and Skittle notice, together as one, he is not right.  There is something in his eyes; something disturbing that causes them extreme consternation.  This shouldn’t be.  Something’s is wrong and pushing him into the light would undermine their job they take very seriously.  

“To f**k or not to f**k, that is the question.” – Tar

So, Skittle and Tar take him back in time to understand his history.  Investigating his life, maybe an inscrutable intention, but still they try. 

Right now the dark human shadows, coming into focus, convert to abiding memories, without fault, like stop motion photography, so still the image recalled of a time gone by, as though we were watching the Latino version of  “Our Town” with the characters living in East L.A.

And so they journey back to East L.A. to find out what happened.  The pestiferous absurdity of reliving a life already lived to find the answer without knowing the questions, to find a truth, a match with the time, space and image, with which the characters are unwilling to face.

And this religious family unable, well, daven was out of the question, the long lingering war place them too far for that, so they meticulously laid plates on the table, brought out some beers, and invited a few friends.  Mario was coming home. 

Frank (Geoff Rivas) and Lydia (Lucy Rodriguez) Mario’s father and mother spoke in quiet tones while they set the table.  Christine (Iliana Carter-Ramirez) Mario’s younger sister and Alexis (Esperanza America) Mario’s girlfriend with two cousins Auggie (Brenda Banda) and Ted Lange are there to welcome the hero home.

And he does come home to careful embraces, missing someone, something, a quick look around the room, too many people to notice, but there was one, person, missing. 

 But no one was mentioning…

“Where’s Ruben?” – Mario


“You’ve got your whole life.  What are you going to do?” – Father

On the table, in plain sight, women in tight camouflaged dresses, asking our boys to come on in and have an exciting career in the military. And they fall for it, all the time, everyday.

And all for one big lie.

Fidel Gomez plays Tar in a very physically demanding role.  His body sweats profusely lifting and hoisting bodies for the sole purpose of sorting the bodies and sending them to their prescribed destination.  His tenebrous image though is enough to send the seeker back to the other place. Gomez is passionate in his intention and uses his hands, voice, and body with extravagant reverence.   

Alexis de la Rocha plays Skittles. She is definitely someone you would want to meet at the end of your rainbow of life.  As the character, she is a gorgeous apparition of a shadowy energy taking care of business on the other side.  But she was somewhat unsure of her objective and how she differed from her counterpart in reaching her objective.

Sam Golzari, Xavi Moreno and Ramiro Segovia play one of the three Marios on stage. They all did exceptional jobs representing one character and there were a lot of similarities in their character. But displaying the differences would have helped the story along.  Why are they different?  And what in their part of the story line makes them different?  What information do we get from their differences as well as their similarities?

Geoff Rivas is also exceptional as the Father and as a homeless man, a former vet who can’t sleep and defines the permanent nature that is melancholia.

Lucy Rodriguez as the Mother provides a steady hand at LATC and does a fine job.

L - R Esperanza America, Ramiro Segovia 

Esperanza America plays Alexis, Mario’s girlfriend.  Try as she might, she is not able to understand the mental anguish her boyfriend is going through, but it doesn’t stop her from trying.  America does an exceptional job with the little things that make a difference.

Brenda Banda plays Auggie, the “tsking” Chola Babe and does an outstanding job.  Vicki Syal also is very capable as Veronica.

Iliana Carter-Ramirez as Christine, Mario’s sister, was in a hurry to grow up and going about it all-wrong. A very nice performance.

Luis Aldana plays Ruben, Mario’s best friend. It is an interesting characterization.  He is supposed to be Mario’s best friend but we really never see the tight connection.  Or maybe this friendship is leading us in a direction that doesn’t really pan out.  He is a Marine and is killed in Iraq but he may not be the reason for his friend’s ultimate demise.  Not really sure how this all worked out in the lab.

“Your clichés are beginning to wear thin.” – Mario

Jasmine Orpilla played Death, dress in black and waiting for the inevitable, beating a drum that we all march to.  She waited patiently for the newly deceased to come to her.

Also rounding out this very fine cast were Aaron Garcia (Rudy), and Ted Lange (Doctor/Cousin). 

The writing tells us that the word for Mario’s disorder is Battle Fatigue, Shelled Shocked, and in another time PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Same disorder – better name. And so we are taken to another possible alternative ending which has little to do with Ruben’s death, or maybe that’s how it played out this particular night. But why does Mario appear with the rest of the soldiers?  Why is he there?  Do we ever really find out? The evanescent ending, streaks by without a clear understanding of the why. 

José Luis Valenzuela does an exceptional job putting the pieces together with incredible visuals.  It is a night filled with humor, dance, and unexpected moments for a production that is filled with so much anguish and melancholia.  The small space is perfect for this production.  Very European – Very avant-garde.

Other members of the fantastic crew are:

Cameron Mock – Scenic & Lighting Design
John Zalewski – Original Sound Design
Edwin Peraza – Sound Design
Hilary Parkin – Costume Design
Randé Dorn – Choreographer
Sam Golzari – Additional Music
Aaron Garcia & Carolina Ortiz – Assistant Directors
Julian Fernandez – Stage Manager

Melancholia is a journey into the darkness, finding answers, with a few questions left unresolved.

Run and take someone who has served our nation with dignity.

Reservation:  866-811-4111 - EXTENDED!  Through April 14th, 2013

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