Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Sweetheart Deal by Diane Rodriguez

L - R Peter Wylie, Linda Lopez, Ruth Livier, Valente Rodriguez - Photos by Grettel Cortes

By Joe Straw

"The land,
like the water
and the air,
should belong to the people"

"Better to die on your feet
than live on your knees..." – El Marcriado

We certainly got the flavor of El Teatro Campesino actos (skits) who got the capacity crowd waving UFW banners and shouting slogans.  There was no room for quiet meditation on this night, you were either with us or you moved down the dusty road with haste. – Narrator

Forgive this writer’s rambling mess, but I hope that something strikes an active cord to move – for humanity’s sake.  Narrator

The Latino Theater Company presents The Sweetheart Deal written and directed by Diane Rodriguez presented in Association with El Teatro Campesino and playing through June 4, 2017 at the Los Angeles Theater Center on Spring Street in Los Angeles.

Rodriguez’s work elevates the human spirit.  The characters costumed in masks and wigs visually jolt our slumberous moral reticence. And in this type of meretricious theatre, perhaps an offset of commedia dell’arte, we wonderfully absorb the meaning in unimaginable ways and in the manner of our own interpretation.  

Rodriguez implores us to recognize the struggle that continues in the workingman until the very last breath. And there is no room for being the passive observer because at the end of the day, and yes there will be one, regrets will fill the unnecessary void. For humanity’s sake, human injustice is the battle worth fighting even though the war is continuous and may last for many generations.

In any case, it makes for a great night of theatre.
That said, if there are hopes of moving the production to a larger venue, a slight alteration is needed to cover the seams.  More on those comments later.

When you see stories like The Sweetheart Deal, you know the lives of the characters are not going to be easy or, for that matter, end well.

The year is 1970. The place is Delano, California. We’re in the office of El Malcriado – The voice of the Farm Worker – underground newspaper.

This is the kind of place where you’d expect an underground newspaper to be, in a dark room, surrounded by majestic uniformed produce crates that serve all kinds of purposes, including privacy. But, most importantly Efren Delgadillo, Set Design, minimizes the size of the workers, small beings who are in a gargantuan struggle. 

Today Chon (Valente Rodriguez), a Cesar Chavez type leader, and Lettie (Linda Lopez), a muscular Dolores Huerta type, wait for the arrival of Mari (Ruth Livier) and Will (Geoffrey Rivas), a married couple, who are arriving to volunteer for the underground newspaper, El Malcriado. (Translation: ill bred or mischievous or children who speak back to their parents.)

Mari is not all that happy about volunteering but Will says they are going to be okay.  He previously worked for a neighborhood penny saver, a grand yellow rag in its own right. Will assures her that this will be perfect since they just trying it out for a year.  Mari scrunches at the thought of spending a year once again in the farming community of Delano, California.  In essence, they have come home, returned to the place of their youth, just as their son is starting his first year of college.   

Charlie (Peter Wylie), a progressive white man with bell-bottom jeans, agenda in hand, greets them. Charlie knows about Mari’s brother, Mac (David Desantos), and wonders if they can get Mac, a teamster, to join their side with the farmworkers.

Will says that he will ask and Mari will also do her part.  Mari hasn’t seen her brother in a while; their relationship is estranged because of what Mac did to their dad who died at 48 working the fields.   Although they are all in on the idea, they know convincing Mac will be an uphill struggle.

With the audience participation, this was an enjoyable night of theatre. But sometimes theatre needs structure and especially in this linear narrative.

Diane Rodriguez had a lot on her plate being both the writer and director. I won't fault her writing, it was beautiful.  But, as the director, I have a few notes for her. The introduction should keep the patrons involved as though they were the farm workers and never let that go.  Also, the reporters need to report the events of the day in the way they put the daily events on paper. We need to not lose sight of the reporters reporting and to see the paper produced.

Also, the group of actors representing the farm workers should be made clear.  The actors played as a commercial break rather than for a purpose.  We should know who they are.  We should also know why they are there.  And location is also key. Are we on the back of a pickup truck?  Are we on a dirt road?  What is the purpose for being there besides a backstage scene or costume change. A little more symbolism goes a long way in these moments.

L - R - Linda Lopez, David Desantos, Valente Rodriguez
David Desantos, as Mac has such a strong presence. But working as an actor in the El Teatro Campesino actos, takes away from the conflict of coming together.  If he is a Teamster, why are we seeing him performing skits? This Teamster wants nothing to do with the farm workers.  Also, he goes by the name of “Mac” and that should say something about the character hiding his roots. One really didn’t get the drunk scene, an excuse to confront his sister, and an excuse for him not to be on his hands and knees begging for forgiveness. Sober with a purpose is better. All that aside, Desantos has a remarkable presence on stage.

Ruth Livier, and Linda Lopez

Ruth Livier, as Mari, does some incredible work on the bench speaking to her husband.  This is what you come for in theatre, for that supreme and emotional connection to the character. This scene that brought me home to an emotional place so deep that my feelings were not kept in check on this night. 

Geoffrey Rivas, as Will, was also part of that scene. He has a strong craft and uses his hands to make a point. But his relationship with his brother-in-law was not a strong one, and it was almost too causal which makes the hurt scene not very believable. The relationship needs more work. Rivas has a quiet passion in his work and his craft.

Linda Lopez is enjoyable as Lettie. More needs to be added to this character to define her needs other than that of a supporting character.

The same holds true with Peter Wylie as Charlie who knows what he is after in the beginning but loses that momentum toward the end of the play.

Valente Rodriguez is a superior actor as Chon but this character needs to command the room in the way a leader does. Chon pushes the button and steps in only when everyone gets hot under the collar. Still, his work was fantastic, sometimes subtle, but very believable.

The costumes by Lupe Valdez, Costume Design are both colorful and wonderful.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Pablo Santiago – Lighting Design
Cricket S. Myers – Sound Design
Yee Eun Nam – Projection Design
Sage Lewis – Composer
Alex Meda – Associate Director
John Freeland, Jr. – Stage Manager
Antonieta Castillo – Properties
Natalie Morales – Assistant Set Designer
Emily Lehrer – Assistant Stage Manager
Gabe Figueroa – Production Manager
Dan Guerrero, Rosalinada Morales, Pauline O’Con, CSA – Casting
Lucy Pollack – Public Relations

Run! Run! And take a writer, someone who loves the truth and reports on it daily.   

514 S. Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA  90013

Tickets:  866-811-4111

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