Friday, May 2, 2014

Premeditation by Evelina Fernández

By Joe Straw

My toenails are unsightly and repulsive.  And in a premeditated overly mundane act of self-preservation and bodily upkeep, I grow careless, clip my skin, and draw blood.  Hobbling my way, toe up, for a Band-Aid, my thoughts slipped to a dream from the prior night.

The Vampires of Silver Lake

My ex-wife has me drop off our girls at a Moroccan restaurant in Silver Lake.  Parking is no easy feat. I park up the hill and walk the girls down to the eatery. The Wiccan ex is there with her eclectic eccentric friends.  Uncomfortable, I make a fast escape and start my journey back to the car.

Just enough time, before the sun goes down (this is Silver Lake) to stop into a quaint clothing shop where the proprietors keep me from leaving while the sun inches its way toward the horizon. I run nimbly to my car passing a Jewish temple. 

Nearby men are dressed in Roman Army battle gear directing traffic into the parking lots. Meanwhile, every moment slips me into another level of gloom and the light creeps into darkness.   

Now, I can’t find my car, which I thought I parked under the eucalyptus tree.  And as I lumber up the street, the street starts sloping, making it harder to ascend. I grab onto a chain-link fence and climb the once horizontal fence, vertically, through a ditch, and under a tunnel, to a level area where there are thugs milling about, vampire biker thugs at that. 

My biker friend has been bitten; he’s okay with that, just one more thing on his road of life.   He hops onto his “hog”,  the kind with the handlebars set way up high, a woman, a succubus hops on, and I take the back seat. (Back seat?)

The biker vampires surround us, they have pearly white teeth, and all I can do is hold my fists up to my neck so they don’t bite.  One vampire looks at me, smells my blood and says, “Not tonight.  But soon.” The hog takes off and the speed gives me a sense of supreme exhilaration, but something happens because my vision and my sense of all realities began to change.  I’ve been bitten.  

All because I clipped my toenails – my imagination races into high gear.  - Narrator

So you can imagine:  What in the world was Evelina Fernández doing when her imagination conjured up her comedy, Premeditation?

The Los Angeles Theatre Center presents Premeditation by Evelina Fernández and directed by José Luis Valenzuela at the Los Angeles Theatre Center through May 18th, 2014.

Premeditation is probably Evelina Fernández’s finest imaginative work of art. A comedy with exaggerated motions, extracting life images from different time periods that dance in time to the glorious hyperbolic direction of José Luis Valenzuela magnificent staging. 

There are slight eerie sighting of “Blake Edwards” bits and choice collections of film noir moments from the ‘40s and ‘50s and let’s throw in “Rambo” and “The Matrix” as well.  All of this makes for a delightful evening and funny night of theater.

John Zalweski’s Sound Design heightens the visual with dramatic timed sound accompanying the action on stage.  The slow motion lighting of a cigarette and listening to the tobacco slowly burn gives amplification to idea that a premeditated notion is in the works.   

Creating an event, bumping off your husband, in a time when things were easier, doesn’t work that well into today’s non-private environment with cell phones, credit cards, and tracing devices that can trace a person down to his last cheeseburger, onion rings, and a unfinished lip stained smoldering cigarette.

Naytheless, the play starts on a bare stage with the exception of a pile of dirty laundry near a clothes hamper upstage center, and a coat rack far stage right center.  The upstage wall is about 20-25 feet tall with two small doors upstage right and upstage left. Dwarfing the small upstage right door is an enormous door, which will be used later in the play. All of this is wonderfully designed by Francois-Pierre Couture, Scenic Design, and dramatically used during the course of play as the characters pop in and out much to the audience’s glee.  

José Luis Valenzuela, the director, has the actors dancing in the set pieces in the opening number, choreographed by Urbanie Lucero. And as they dance in, we notice the actors are in costumes from another period, late forties by Costume Designer Naila Aladdin Sanders.  My impressions are the characters spinning back to another time, another mindset, which makes the comedy all that more interesting.   

The play starts with two disgruntled housewives, Esmeralda (Evelina Fernández) and Lydia (Lucy Rodriguez). 

Esmeralda looks at the meretricious splendor, she calls “husband,” Fernando (Geoffrey Rivas) a UCLA professor, and complains to him, about the mundane things in life that she cannot get him to do, like picking up his underwear after he takes a shower.  Indeed!

Lydia (Lucy Rodriguez), in a blond wig with four large curls the size of Mount Everest, gets ready to do a load of laundry but complains about her husband Mauricio (Sal Lopez) a hit man, who, by the way, has a heart of gold, and is not working much lately.  Well, his times are tough, what with everyone getting along these days, his cell phone does not ring off the hook.  (In a manner of speaking.)

But finally, Mauricio’s phone does ring.  It’s Esmeralda.  She wants to meet him in the lobby of a downtown hotel, hoping he will come inconspicuously.  But when they meet in the lobby, both are so inconspicuous as to be conspicuous.

No matter, Esmeralda hands Mauricio the key to the room (It’s a key card.) and goes to the room to make her comfortable.

Meanwhile Lydia, doing laundry, finds Esmeralda’s home phone number in Mauricio’s pant’s pocket.  She calls and gets Fernando.  Lydia asks for “Esmeralda.”  Fernando says his wife is not there and politely demands to know who is calling.

Startled, Lydia hangs up.  But Fernando calls her back and asks why she called?  (This would not have happened in the forties.) The eyes get narrower, suspicions are warranted, and the two find out about their partner’s rendezvous in a downtown hotel.  

Meanwhile, at the hotel, there is a knock at Esmeralda’s hotel door.  Mauricio has already lost the keycard.

Evelina Fernández plays Esmeralda, a housewife, with an overly active imagination. And my impression is that Esmeralda has seen way too many film noir movies.  So many that she dresses that way, thinks that way, sees visuals that permeate her brain in that way.  It is Fernández’s way that captures the character.  The cool strident walks and the manner in which she conducts herself leads to a very detail character that will stop at nothing to get someone else to do her dirty work.  

Sal Lopez was very impressive as Mauricio, the hit man with a heart of gold, conscience, or maybe someone who couldn’t afford the bullets. Still, if he’s going to kill anyone, he’s got to have a reason and the underwear on the bathroom floor just ain’t cutting it. Maricio was going to get the answers he needed if he had to kill someone to get it. Lopez’s timing was impeccable on this night.

Geoffrey Rivas is fantastic filling in a couple of supporting roles as well as Fernando, a slightly self-absorbed UCLA professor with little imagination and curiosity.  Fernando is in his own world and does not listen to the maniacal menacing turgidity of his wife’s call for self-improvement.  (Nagging) The idea of his wife’s unhappiness is axiomatic to all with the exception of this self-involved man.  There is hardly an ounce of curiosity or conspiracy in his being. His analysis of the current situation gets him hogtied and in a lot of trouble. Rivas does a tremendous job!

Lucy Rodriguez plays Lydia and other supporting roles as well. Seeing her in other productions, this is by far her finest work. The method in her madness was finely tuned as she channeled characters all into some marvelous action onstage.   Mad, that her husband, is seeing someone else, she sets out to kill him and gets a gun from a collection that would make Rambo jealous.   But when she finds out otherwise, she wants someone else dead and the money.  There is no pleasing this woman and that is what makes the character so delightful. Do not miss Lucy Rodriguez in this play.

The audience had a great time the night I was there.  José Luis Valenzuela is on top of his game with this production. The moments play out exquisitely as the characters take command of the entire stage and give it their all.

But I have some thoughts.  One of the fascinating ideas of the play is that it takes place in different time periods and I say this because of the costumes of a period and the iPhones on stage. And that makes me believe this is Esmeralda’s vision, after all, at the end of the day, she is the winner and dramatically leaves in the manner of her choosing.  So why not add one more element to this delightful play.  Emphatically make this Esmeralda’s vision.  As it is now, she dresses the characters (in her mind), and supplies the necessary ingredients to this soup to fulfill her prophesy.  Make Esmeralda the focal point. Make all the visuals spin around Esmeralda’s idea of what a good life it would be if her worthless husband were, eh hem, eliminated.  

Run!  Run!  Run!  And take someone you suspect is having an affair.  You’ll have a great time on your way home.

Other members of this delightful crew are as follows:

Lighting & Projection Design – Pablo Santiago had extreme close-ups projected on the upstage walls and that added greatly to the visual on stage.

Prop Master – Dean Cameron

Assistant Stage Manager – Ariel Richardson

Production Manager – Rita Lilly

Production Stage Manager – Henry “Heno” Fernandez

Assistant to the Director – Eliza Laytner

Technical Director – Wayne Nakasone

Programming Director/Literary Manager – Chantal Rodriguez, Ph.D.

LATC General Manager – Paul Stuart Graham

RESERVATIONS: (866) 811-4111 (toll-free).


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