Saturday, April 13, 2013

Tamales De Puerco (Pork Tamales) – by Mercedes Floresislas

By Joe Straw

A while ago, I attended a seminar hosted by the Screen Actors Guild, which included casting directors for ABC, CBS, FOX, Disney, etc.  Concurrently in the Los Angeles Times, there was a two-page spread of their upcoming fall season featuring the 100 or so stars of the season.  And out of those actors, there were only four of color. I posed the question of “Why?” to the panelist and there was a deathly silence. No one wanted to respond.

And if my imaginary memory dis-serves me incorrectly someone mentioned they were looking for a Hispanic deaf mute actor who knew sign language.  They said they traveled the world looking for this actor.  (For the love of god!) -  Narrator

Casa 0101 presents Tamales De Puerco (Pork Tamales) – A trilingual play in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language – Written by Mercedes Floresislas and wonderfully directed by Edward Padilla.

Tamales De Puerco is a magnificent show featuring a very exciting cast that has you hanging on every word in Spanish, English, and Sign. There is no ennui here as Tamales De Puerco lifts your spirits to unimaginable heights.  

The remarkable ambiance of this show is its silence. The silence in the play is both beautiful and deafening. And in the silence, I could hear audience members sobbing around me and I admit I was moved to tears as well. There are outstanding performances that you must not miss.  (And as an aside, I would encourage all those casting directors looking all over the world to come to Boyle Heights to see this production.)  

The play starts with Tana (Miriam Peniche), a street vendor selling roasted corn, when police confront her.  Norma Morales (Cristal Gonzalez) with baby in tow tries to help her but the police are eager to confiscate the merchandise because Tana doesn’t have a license.

Reynaldo Ramirez (Arturo Aranda), Norma’s husband pulls her away and they manage to escape the long arm of the law.

Back home, domestic problems ensue as Norma and Reynaldo deal with the news that their son is profoundly deaf. Norma wants to seek help but Reynaldo refuses to believe there is anything wrong with his son.  Reynaldo is quite abusive toward Norma and their child.

Norma has had enough abuse and runs away with the baby. She pleads with her mother (Mercedes Floresislas) to take them in.  But her mother, now involved in a relationship, tells her to accept the abuse and go back to her husband.

Distraught, Norma ends up in a homeless shelter singing to her baby, much to the consternation of the other clients who tell her to shut up.  But despite their current situation, Norma caresses her baby and lovingly sings that everything will be okay.    

At daybreak, Norma and the others are told to leave and that they can return around 4:00 pm. On the street, Norma finds Tana and they begin to chat. They are confronted by a deaf person (Michael Anthony Martinez-Islas) who hands them a card— possibly requesting a donation but this is unclear.

Still Norma follows him and ends up in an AA meeting for deaf participants. There, she witnesses Kent’s (Dickie Hearts) heart wrenching story of his father and their relationship. Apparently Kent’s father thought his three strikes of alcoholic, gay, and deaf were two too many.

Years pass and the baby, Mauricio Morales (Jaden Delgado), is now six years old. Mauricio and his mother now sign fluently with each other.  Tomas (Alfredo Avila), an aspiring guitar player, hangs around Norma and Mauricio but Norma seems disinterested. Instead she focuses on working toward getting her green card.

And as Tomas is playing with Mauricio, Norma teaches Tana to sign M*ther F*cker in right in front of her preoccupied kid.  Norma and Tana with their carts of corn and tamales are approached by a cop (Mercedes Floreislas).  Tomas sees the cop and takes Norma’s cart as Norma takes Mauricio and quietly leaves.

Later Tana tells Norma that Tomas got a ticket for holding her cart.  And when Norma offers to pay for the ticket, Tomas refuses and says he did it out of kindness. This is a big hint to which Norma remains impervious.  

Tana has asked Karla (Lynn Moran), a deaf woman who attends a deaf church, to meet Norma.  But when Karla and Norma meet they have trouble communicating. Norma is interested in what Karla has to say but, at the same moment, Norma must attend to business. Karla, not understanding Norma’s spoken words, misunderstands Norma’s actions and intentions for Mauricio.

Back home Karla, concerned for Mauricio, tells her husband Cesar (Scott McMaster) that Norma does not have her priorities straight. And speaking of priorities, Cesar wants to know when are they going to have a baby.  He understands that her desire for an education but she already has two bachelors degrees and a master’s degree and he’s getting tired of waiting.

Late at night, Norma picks up Mauricio at Tana’s home and they have a quiet discussion.

“Go to the deaf church…Mauricio needs to know deaf people who aren’t alcoholics.” – Tana

Suddenly Mauricio is sick and the only relief Norma has is prayer.  She is afraid of taking him to the doctors for the fear of being deported. Tomas is there when Karla appears at her door and signs that it’s okay, the doctors will treat Mauricio and that she has nothing to fear.

The doctor treats Mauricio and Tomas asks Norma out for coffee but Norma is not giving him an inch.

Later, Detective Ramos (Antonio Perez) and his partner Detective Cohen (Ramona Pilar Gonzales) come to Norma’s apartment.  They are looking for Reynaldo who is a suspect for embezzling and possibly murder.  

We have not heard the last of Reynaldo.

Mercedes Floreislas has written a very enchanting play.  There is so much heart here it sends audiences members out in a state of exalted ubiquitous contemplation thinking about race, immigration, child rearing, gender, health care, and disabilities.   I’m not a big fan of the ending, which sends the play in another direction becoming the theatre of the absurd.  Not something you want do to when so many important issues are at play.  This is one caveat in a night filled with wonderful moments.   

Edward Padilla, the director, has put together a very exciting cast, and has done a remarkable job moving the play along with its twenty-some odd scenes.

The actors did a remarkable job signing, speaking Spanish and English. They also worked diligently at changing the set and moving the play along.  There were a number of set-ups and a lot of hard work went into keeping the action moving.

Cristal Gonzales as Norma does a remarkable job keeping her focus on realizing her objective and succeeding in the end.  Still I don’t know if she decides on a relationship in the end. (Mystery better left unsolved.)

Arturo Aranda plays Reynaldo is kind of nasty all the way through.  I’m not sure what his wife saw in him. He is like an animal you see in nature video that has had a big fight, gets away, and is killed by another predator moments later.

Lynn Moran as Karla does a fantastic job.  She is an adamant woman, never giving an inch, always thinks she is right and doesn’t fight fair—she closes her eyes when she doesn’t want to see the other side.  Discussion closed. She fills the role with a lot of humor, and is filled with confusion from the things she sees but doesn’t hear.  Very nice work.

Scott McMaster plays Cesar with a lot of sympathy but he is set in the objective of wanting a family with Karla and he will not stop until that objective is achieved.  Cesar can’t do this without being adamant in his signing while his wife refuses to watch. It was a wonderful performance.

Miriam Peniche as Tana does superior work here as I’ve seen in her other performances. She is both funny and serious.  She is an actress with considerable talent that knows her way around the set and brings an undeniable truth to her performance.  She is definitely worth the price of admission.

Dickie Hearts does a fantastic job with Kent. There are so many layers to his character, the training is evident, and the work is superior.  I wanted to go up to him and speak to him about the performance, not remembering that he is deaf.  He signed “thank you” and walked away. (Silly me.)

Brian M. Cole had a very nice role as a deaf repairman.  It was a small role in the second act but a significant one.  He excelled at his craft with a lot of humor and his character was excellent.

Alfredo Avila plays Tomas in a very understated but significant performance.  Everything about the character felt real and rich with a lot of emotional depth. He also does a nice turn with the guitar trying to woo the love of his life.

Jaden Delgado does a fine job as Mauricio.  He is very cute and signs with the best of them.

Other members of the cast include Michael Anthony Martinez-Islas, Mercedes Floresislas, Antonio Perez, Ramona Pilar Gonzales, and Maria Correa.

Olin Tonatiuh plays Mauricio Morales but did not perform this night.  He is schedule to perform April 4, 6, 12, 14, 20, 26 & the 28th.)  

Other members of this remarkable crew are as follows:

Vincent Sanchez – Stage Manager
Marco de Leon – Set Designer
Sohail e. Najafi – Lighting Designer
Geoffrey Aymar – Sound Designer
Carlos Brown – Costume Designer
Jorge Villanueva – Light Board Operator
Heriberto Solorzano – Original artwork in Set Design
Froylán Cabuto – Spanish Language Consultant
Garrett Hammond – Fight Coordinator
Miriam Peniche – Fight Captain
Estibaliz Giron – Assistant Stage Manager/Projectionist
Julio Oviega – American Sign Language Consultant
Emmanuel Deleage – Executive Director
Mark Kraus – Webmaster
Soap Design Co. – Graphic Design
Ed Krieger – Production Photographer
Steve Moyer Public Relations – Press Representative

Josefina López is Casa 0101 Founding Artistic Director.

Run and take someone who believes it’s okay to call a human being “illegal”. Maybe this play will change their perspective.    

Reservations: 323-263-7684

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