Monday, September 9, 2013

Light in The Darkness by Victor Tamayo

By Joe Straw

My Native American friends in the Screen Actors Guild asked me to join them at a sweat lodge they were having on a hill above the Korean Bell in Long Beach, California.

I’ve always wanted to participate in one but when I got there (early I might add), there was not one soul present. “Indian time” is an expression I’ve grown not to like.

I started to think I got the dates wrong but eventually everyone showed up in an unorganized, unorthodox, and complacent fashion, ready to do what was needed.   

The rain started to fall as they fired up porous rocks and, because of the rain, it was decided that the men and women would share one lodge to tell their stories, to throw their stories into the smoke, up and out into the cool Long Beach air, and free the demons that plagued their lives.

And in complete darkness, sitting on the muddy ground, with occasional light from a grass being thrown on the rocks, I listened to heartbreaking stories.

I must admit, I got a lot from that gathering, and I set free a few demons of my own. – Narrator

Casa 0101 and Mexika Films presents Light in the Darkness written by Victor Tamayo and directed and adapted by Ramon “Monxi” Flores.

Originally written as a play about veterans coming home from Iraq with drug problems, this Boyle Heights premiere is adapted by Flores to highlight gang problems in Los Angeles with various degrees of success. 

Light in the Darkness is about a young man – Chicano and indigenous – struggling to overcome major obstacles in his life and move away from that darkness to discover his own light.  

What I learned, in this production, is when some asks: “Where you from?” It’s best not to answer proudly with your gang affiliation, because that will get you into all kinds of trouble.

Interestingly, the play starts with people going into a sweat lodge to release their demons and Carlos Alvarado (Johnny Otiz) is the last to enter.  And it is in here the rest of the play starts to unfold as this young man thinks about the significant events of his life.

In the sweat lodge Carlos Alvarado has time to contemplate of all the wrongs that he has committed during the course of his life.  These include drug addiction, getting his girlfriend pregnant, killing a few people, and generally causing mayhem and destruction to the lives around him. At this point in his life he has not given an ounce of consideration, or a second thought to the lives he has destroyed, and yet he does not want his girlfriend to have an abortion.

This is a huge production with many cast members and a production staff that has worked tirelessly to get this show on the boards. And while not everything worked, there were some marvelous performances this night.

Johnny Ortiz plays Carlos Alvarado and it is very hard to feel sympathy for this character – he kills, gets his girlfriend pregnant, and does lots of drugs.  Carlos says goodbye to his mother in a very emotional scene but we miss much of it because his mother is upstage, looking down on him, and he has his back to the audience. Still, Ortiz gives the character a very creative physical life. But I believe the key to this role is for him to find the moments where he drops the gang characterizations and discovers the truth about what it means to be human, and connects to the truth. The reality is the character, hesitantly, commits to a change. He enters a sweat lodge to find himself, take stock of how he got there, and discover how he is going to get out and get on with the rest of his life. There needs to be a complete cleansing in his character and we need to see it.   

Sara Aceves plays Liz, the pregnant girlfriend, and the Cheerleader. The relationship to her mother needs more work and it needs to be physical and emotional.  This is an important moment in their relationship and they speak to each other as though they are fighting about who is going put away the groceries and make dinner.

Ramon Acosta does some fine work as Spanky and plays Chava as well.  Both were similar in nature and both nicely done.

Lauren Ballesteros plays Carlos’ Mom, LA Dreamer and Turtle. As the mom, the very statuesque, Ballesteros needs to find the core of the character.  She needs a rich emotional life, and needs to find the humor in her role as the mother. It is difficult to do given the sinister side to her character, but not impossible.   

Uvaldo Baltazar plays Gordo, Rockabilly and Louie.  All the characters were similar in nature and Baltazar had a smile on his face that never leaves.  Interesting.

Isaac Cruz does some very interesting work as Bandit and Cop 2.

Claudia Durán has exceptional moments as Shorty, Mellissa, and La Bambi.

Joshua Duron is a remarkable actor and he has a number of roles as Flaco, Trigger, Priest (Something happened this night when the light went out on him and the scene.), and Thumper’s Dad, Carlos’ Son the Future. Duron does some incredible work and is marvelous in his craft.

Wali Habib has a very nice on stage presence and seems to work organically on his craft. As Boxer, he has a nice quiet dignity and works well for this character.  

Angel Lizarraga plays Sleepy, Sandman’s Little Brother, and Kid.

Carmelita Maldonado plays Liz’s Mom, La Grumpy, Spirit 2, and Assistant Producer. More work is needed in the scene with her daughter.  Still the scene has its funny moments.  And there is a physical life to Liz’s mom that needs exploration, and it needs to be extreme. There’s enough in her material to do that.  

Xolo Maridueña is excellent as Young Carlos. It is interesting how he is able to react with his older counterpart and take command of the scene.  There was some nice rich, physical life displayed here.  And Xolo is a great name!

Jose Martinez plays Pancho, Joker, and Creeper and oddly enough each character falls deeper behind a hat or something similar to disguise his appearance from that in the opening moments.  Still, Martinez does some very fine work and brings a very nice reality to his characters.

Alex Miramontes plays the Assistant Direct and Cop 1.   Cop 1 was a real odd role when he gives a kid Clippers tickets to stay away from drugs and gangs.  (Drug addicts at Clipper game?  Who would have thought?)  Not that he had any interest in basketball or the Clippers.  Why not sell the ticket for more drugs?

Aurelio Yeiyotl Medina plays Sandman and Store Clerk.  The Sandman is a significant role but the character is all over the stage with wild characterizations.  It is a reality that is not ground in a cultured realism, looks more like improvisation, or just a young actor trying to find his way. Sandman needs a serious objective that somehow connects to the main character.  His objective should be in line with his character’s name and needs further development. Okay, that said, Medina has a very good look, a grand tuff of thick black hair on top of his head, and should do well in this industry.

Margarita Reyes plays Tonalli, Rockabilly, and Thumper’s Mom. Katie Ventura plays Thumper, Bandit’s Mom and Spirit 1.

I enjoyed the dancing of Victor Yebra as Tezcatlipoca. He was truly inspiring as he took the dead back into the light. Or was it the sweat lodge? In any case, his dancing gave the show a tremendous authentic magic with the expressions that sent characters into the light or further into the darkness.

Also Jaime Calvillo plays Tezcatlipoca but did not perform on the night I was there.  

I was there on opening night.  The cast got a standing ovation.

But, I have a few notes.

Victor Tamayo wrote the original play based on his accounts of veterans returning home from the first Iraq invasion. And that might have made more sense than the adaption by Ramon “Monxi” Flores. First of all, it gives the characters more of a backstory, a life they bring into their surroundings, a soldier coming home addicted, and not knowing where to turn.

Instead we have this adaptation about a young man who is lost with no direction or focus to his life, because he doesn’t have a mother, father, or any other mentor in his life. But I think there is more here if Flores can get it all together.

This is a play about a young man in a sweat lodge, telling his story and understanding his truth.  But we are taken away from his truth, because we are discovering the truth of others.  For example, the girlfriend and her mother, the girlfriend and the priest, Sandman and the woman he rapes, Spanky and his relationship with his friend and wanting out of gangs. All these things have little or nothing to do with Carlos, or his discoveries.  So we are left discovering a truth about a man with other realities going on, on stage.

How do we change the action of the play to make it more cohesive?  It is a full-scale production, rehearsed, and gone over time and time again hoping to get the right combination on the stage.

First, reduce the number of scenes – with too many scene changes; the action is broken by unnecessary darkness. Have the actors move the set pieces when needed in the light and in character.

Secondly, keep all the actors on stage the entire time and avoid the blackouts.  Make the location claustrophobic with the throngs on people on stage, all the time. This gives the audience a realistic picture of the vast amount of people who inhabit a small turf that people are battling for daily. and consistently. Also, this will ensure all of the characters will have a strong relationship with Carlos.  They will always be in his mind.   

Third, create a strong opening. Presently, what we see are five or six character going into a sweat lodge.  All are equal and none are highlighted.  Carlos is the main character he should be highlighted; we should see the problems of his entire life, in his entire being before he enters the sweat lodge. 

But most importantly highlight Carlos who is the protagonist.  It is his story, his dream, and his reality.  

Create a dramatic life with the shootings. All shots hit their intended targets when we know living in Los Angeles gets a lot of innocent people killed everyday with stray bullets.

“Where you from?” “Wrong answer.” Bang!

You’re dead.

Emmanuel Deleage the Producer and Casa 0101 Executive Director did a fine job getting this show into the theatre. As well as Josefina López who is Casa 0101 Founding Artistic Director.

Marco Deleon was the Set Designer who created a very workable set.

Sohail e. Najafi was the Lighting Designer and Casa 0101 Technical Director.

Vincent Sanchez is the Prop Master and Casa 0101 Facilities Manager

Other members of the crew are as follows:
Adam Gonzalez – Stage Manager
Estibaliz Giron – Stage Hand
Mickey Miramontes – Backstage Manager
Ed Krieger – Production Photographer – Ed has a keen eye and manages to capture the characters qualities with terrific production stills.
Nancy Ventura aka Uninanti – Key artwork Designer
Steve Moyer Public Relations – Press Representative
Mark Kraus – Webmaster Casa 0101 Administrator

Run!  And take a progressive Latina sociologist with you.

For tickets, please call the Casa 0101 Theater Box Office at 323-263-7684,

E-mail, or buy online at  Advance reservations are highly recommended.  Theatre patrons can get a $2 discount by presenting their Metro Bus Cards at the Box Office when buying tickets.  Metro bus stations are located on First Street in Boyle Heights at both Soto Street, and at Boyle Street (Mariachi Plaza), within a short walking distance to the theatre.  Like us on Facebook at

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