By Joe Straw
Leaving the theatre after watching “This is a Man’s World” by Sal Lopez I was overcome by a profound sense of sadness that nearly overtook me on the drive home. Clearly, theatre on this night had affected some kind of change, for the better or worse; I’m not sure which. I suspect it was for the better. – Narrator
Jose Luis Valenzuela, in his introduction, stood on stage and mentioned that Sal Lopez approached him about doing a new show.
“Well, what’s it about?” – Jose Luis Valenzuela
“It’s about being a man.” – Sal Lopez
Jose Luis just stared, thinking back, remembering the image of Sal proudly standing in front of him, the final word of “man” just press forth from his lips.
Slightly dumfounded, Jose Luis waited for more to come but then realized that that was it. He paused and questioned the moment and speculated where all of this was going. “…about being a man”. He seemed to be saying, “I am a man, you are a man, and we are both men”. The recognition factor of how being a man might be a show, at this moment, at first glance, did not seem appealing.
Instead Jose Luis just stared, a bottomless vacuous stare.
“Well, um, okay.” – Jose Luis Valenzuela
This is a Man’s World A Candid Coming of Age Story by Sal Lopez, directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela, and produced by The Latino Theatre Company will be playing through June 21, 2015 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.
There is something truly profound about Sal Lopez’s work. The title says little of what the play is about, “This is a Man’s World”, borrowing a line from James Brown work of art, a song. Rather it’s about Sal becoming a man and the steps leading to that exalted position in his life.
And it’s all generated by an aggravated unfortunate event.
The play starts out with Sal on a hospital bed suffering from after-effects of a stroke following a strenuous workout at Bally’s. And lying in bed, allows Sal enough time to contemplate the moments, hear the voices, see the shadows, think about the time that passed. And after losing 6 hours of his life to amnesia, the first thing he thinks is: How did I get here?
The silhouette, behind the curtain, lifted like a caliginous shadow from a corpse, a rising lifeless form, well, nearly dead. The specter awoke from a deep sleep.
But when Sal came out and threw back the curtains, something happened—the rapport between the actor and audience felt slightly uncomfortable. And I thought, “Was this “man” thing going to work?”
That feeling was only temporary as the moments started to gel under Valenzuela’s direction and the night sailed on into Sal’s manhood.
And, why did the night have a dramatic effect on me?
Well, for one, the time frame is familiar to me, growing up in the sixties with the manly images of Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan (Tarzan and His Mate 1934) and George Reeve’s Superman (1952) projected on screen. Those were images that young men saw on TV and identified with at that time.
(Playing Superman and flying off the chest of drawers onto the bed until it broke was not unheard of in our house.)
Secondly, Sal had seven brothers, (all who were there in the audience that night) and with a house full of boys, someone was bound to get into some kind of trouble.
And three, we can all identify and have an emotional attachment to the time you got your first car and the first time you fell in love, and the moment we first made contact with your forever love.
And as life progresses, something changes when you get married and have your first child; you say the wrong thing at the very wrong time, something that you can never take back; you have let down your first born and they give you that look that you never forget, ever.
These are the first things, the first notion, that what you say, as a man, has a dramatic effect on those around you. And these are the first steps, in a long line of steps, of recognizing what it means to be a man.
But just when you think you've got a lock on it all, there are the moments when you recognize what a real man was like, remembering your dad—a hard disciplinarian one day, the brave dad who saves the day when you are in trouble, or the proud dad who visits you on your set, and sadly, the dad who leaves you without saying his final goodbye.
Sal Lopez, the writer and the actor, did an exceptional job. Lopez has an unquestionable appeal and is infinitely enlightening. With fluidly he moves about the stage inhabiting the characters with fantastic precision. The characters are specific, each and everyone, and the moments are captivating, especially when one looks into his eyes as he pauses to think on stage. And in this very intimate space, you get Sal Lopez, up close and personal.
One cannot help but have tremendous admiration for Jose Luis Valenzuela’s directorial work and how he makes things work almost seamlessly on stage. One can be sure; the night will be filled, not only with significant drama but, dance and music as well.
That said, one might question how the opening and the almost-drowning scenes did not tie in convincingly to the story being told. The drowning scene took us away from the moment that had been running smoothly until then. The opening is a little trickier in that the actor has to tie in the reason why he is speaking to us, how he wants to tell us that it is a man’s world, and how he wants to convince us of that fact.
At the end of the day, the short journey of life, one has to contemplate the journey and decide whether one has made a significant impact to those around you, that you did enough for humankind, and that you did not hurt too many people along the way. And Jose Luis, gives us the answers, and ties it all together with a brilliant ending, a proud moment that lifts the audience to their feet.
Yee Eun Nam was responsible for the Set & Projection Design. Ivan Robles created the Sound Design. Phillip W. Powers did an exceptional job with the Lighting Design. And Urbanie Lucero was responsible with the Costume Design.
The Stage Manager was Henry “Heno” Fernandez.
Run! Run! And take someone who loves comic books. There are a lot of heroes in this one.