Saturday, November 23, 2013

St. Jude by Luis Alfaro

Luis Alfaro 

By Joe Straw

Here’s a good one. 

The Center Theatre Group Ahmanson Theatre, Mark Taper Forum Kirk Douglas Theatre, Michael Ritchie – Artistic Director, Edward L. Rada – Managing Director, Gordon Davidson – Founding Artistic Director presents the World Premiere of St. Jude written and performed by Luis Alfaro. (Always, the Latino guy gets the final credit.)

Kirk Douglas Theatre is the classiest theatre in Culver City and I have a have a wonderful time every time I go there. The spacious lobby makes conversations intimate.  And on this night, because I was the first one through the door (as is mostly the case), the staff gave me a complimentary drink. First rate service with a smile.  

Those who go to the theater are familiar with the “guy” who comes out on stage saying where to exit in case of an emergency.  Over there blah, blah, blah, and over there blah, blah, blah, stretching his thick brown fingers out on opposites sides of the theatre, to Exit signs I can read, in English and Spanish, gracias.

Then, I recognized the hat.  “Isn’t that Luis Alfaro?” And of course I pronounced it as – Loo-is Al-fare-o – instead of like my Spanish teacher, Señor Pimsleur, would “Lu-ess Alfarrrrro.”

Yes, it was him. Looking slightly older than the guy with the three-day-old stubble on the one sheet outside. This means something.  Perhaps this is a show about looking back – a personal history if you will.

And it kind of was.

The stage was relatively bare. Alfaro and his male assistant casually walk up stage and brought items downstage.  A podium with a thick notebook for Alfaro, a desk for the assistant with an overhead projector downstage right, a small table downstage left, on top of that a green bowl with little tiny square bandages circling the inside of the bowl.  

Luis Alfaro majestically speaks with his hands.  His thick fingers spread out from here to there. His fingers hold and flip the notes before him, an omnimum-gatherum, a collection of tidbits, a panoply, from his life’s moments, not in linear form but stuffed in a notebook form to commix.  These are ideas and are not tangible, or read, but spoken using those thick brown fingers. There is a through line to an end, but we must go back to get to the now.

And in the sacredness of the overhead projector projecting California’s west coast onto the back wall, Alfaro pricks his fingers, stamps on his feet so the blood will run, saunters to the projector, and places a dab of blood on the map.  The bright red dot is a place he has lived, a place that has a part of him now, now baking on the glass.   

Do Lord, O, do Lord, O do remember me
Do Lord, O, do Lord, O do remember me
Do Lord, O, do Lord, O do remember me
Way beyond the blue – Moses George Hogan

Death has its own silent roar, a burning soaring hissing sound, hard putting pieces together, unless you’re tuned in to the sound, and the sound is not exclusive without images, like the Bay Bridge, “skin as dark as dirt”, “Fresno work” and “summer vacation”, “Pentecostal Mother”, praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit one minute and speaking in tongues the next, and brother munching, crunching, smacking – “…a bag of communal wafers” and getting sicker than the dog with the mange.  

Drawing blood and father splayed out on a gurney. And isn’t that the worst sight and sound known to any human being. And, to top that off, as always, blankets that barely cover your brown Mexican ass, left in the hallway, alone – the miserable indignities of modern day health care.  

Moments ago, 80 years old and playing in a senior’s soccer league, and let it be said that you were just living moments ago.

“Catholics don’t read revelations.  It’s a bummer.” – Alfaro

But now it’s time to control sobs, but can’t.   Something has to be done as he runs to St. Jude, to get out that final “We love you, Dad” before he can’t hear it anymore. And in his entire life when thing never worked right, the only thing that feels right, right now, is his hand slipping into his fathers hand while he waits for the inevitable.   

And who’s to show you, what’s what, or what’s up at St. Jude but the fourteen-year-old looking Iranian doctor.  

In a constant flux of everything changing – Things have to got to change.  

“We’re Mexi Cans not Mexi Can’ts.” – Alfaro

I saw the light I saw the light
Nor more darkness no more night
Now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light – Hank Williams

Thick and brown, self-described as a picker of the “wrath of grapes”.  Everywhere you go you leave blood, a piece of yourself, in time and space.  

And all Alfaro can think while his father is dying is that he lived longer than Whitney Houston and that life-changing incident on the hill, and the one in the pool, the abusive uncle, in that time period after Vietnam and before his death. And does his father deserve the truth this close to his death while he is whispering, and praying in Spanish?

And where the hell is McFarland, California? “ otel”, “motel”, “hotel”, “notel”.

He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

Luis Alfaro, the writer and performer, of this performance like art, recounts a recent journey of his life in this tenebrous subject matter.  The pictures jump out at you and become part of your awakening conscience.  Where it all lands? I’m not sure.  And it is a story, albeit, non-linear, with large gaps left out after his seditious rebellious 16-year-old self.  But suffice to say there is a message, about home, dying, a son’s solicitude, and the preparations of going through the process caring for his dying father. 

And, strangely enough, even the Pentecostal speaking in tongue wasn’t enough to heal the sick but made me feel a lot better.

Robert Egan directs this presentation.

Scenic Design by Takeshi Kata.  Lighting Design by Lap Chi Chu.  Sound Design by Adam Phalen.  And Production Stage Manager is Elle Aghabala.

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