Sunday, April 15, 2018

Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe by Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo, Story by Theresa Chavez, Louis Pérez and Rose Portillo

By Joe Straw

About Productions present Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe, story by Theresa Chavez, Louie Pérez and Rose Portillo, written by Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo, directed by Theresa Chavez, and featuring the music of David Hidalgo and Louie Pérez at The Plaza de la Raza, 3540 N. Mission Road, Los Angeles, CA  90031 and closed April 8th, 2018.

It’s easy to get to Plaza de la Raza Theatre from the Westside if you don’t follow the directions of your iPhone’s map app since it will get you about 90 percent there; the rest of the way you need to figure it out for yourself.

The parking lot is small for the theatre so it fills up quickly.  Fortunately, street parking is plentiful.

The setting of the play Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe is in 1968 Los Angeles.

In the comfort of her home, in the barrio, no one can hold Evangeline Ibarra (Ashley Diane) still. She is always flitting about her home with enough energy for three people. Aside from dancing as she cleans the house, she makes sure her brother Ray Ibarra (Moises Castro) has on a clean shirt and eats breakfast before shuffling him off to high school.  She does many little things to keep the household running and to help her brother and mother; all of this under the watchful eye of her deceased father in a military photograph from the mantel.   

Alicia Ibarra (Blanca Araceli), Evangeline’s mother, moves slowly this morning. She knows she has to find work to pay the bills. These are now crammed in a box that she keeps by the door, a box whose contents are stacking up beyond closure.

Evangeline sends her off, wishing her the best of luck. Then she daydreams herself to be a dancer.  Moments later, she is interrupted by her cousin, Rita (Keyla Monterroso Mejia), made-up with foot-long eyelashes. Rita doesn’t use the front door; instead she struggles to crawl in through the kitchen window.  

Evangeline shares that she has an interview for a dancing job at a club in Hollywood. Rita offers to drive her there in her brother’s car. He left the car in her care when he was shipped off to Vietnam. Evangeline gets the job!

Alicia comes back home and shares that she got a job.  She is ashamed because it is at a sweatshop for little money but whatever is better than nothing. Alicia tells Evangeline that her father always wanted her to go to college but this isn’t in the cards for the young Evangeline.

So Evangeline must improvise.

Evangeline sees the life around her and it is not good. Desperate to free herself, she slips out of the house in a Norms Diner uniform to go to her job in Hollywood.  There is “something” about being on stage, the moment with singer Edgar (Adrian Brizuela) and his backup dancers in go-go motif that translate into ecstasy.  Sandy (Kye McCleary), and the ensemble (Michael”Naydoe” Pinedo, Natalie Polisson) dance, keeping their eyes on a moment that works on stage.

Part of the fantasy of the whole night was Gaby Moreno as lead vocalist and guitarist playing effortlessly with her long strident fingers hitting all of the right notes.  Moreno was an extra-added bonus to the night and it was wonderful to see her in this venue.

Moreno plays as part of “The Neighborhood” Band featured Sebastian Aymanns on percussion and Kimon Kirk on bass.

That said:  On to the criticism.

The night was successful. The story by Theresa Chavez, Louie Pérez and Rose Portillo hasn’t changed much from the 2012 production at The Bootleg Theatre, as indicated by the reviews of that production. They mention of tackling too much in a short period of time, which is fair to say.

There are many good things that can be said of Theresa Chavez’s direction. It is wonderful in moments but lacking focus in other moments. The title suggests Evangeline, the queen of make-believe, had an over active imagination but, with the exception of the first scene, there was little in the way of make believe throughout the course of the show. Dancing gets her where she needs to go but the imagination must propel her to get what she wants.  And, once she gets the first thing, she must never lose that sense of make-believe to get more. She must always be dreaming.

The perspective of “make-believe” is an idea or the through line that must be accentuated throughout the play. But, then again, make-believe is who the person was as, and throughout the night; she gets a cold dose of reality every step she takes. Either way, a stronger choice in either direction would make the night a little more successful.

Diane Ashley does a fine job as Evangeline.  She is a bubbly actor.  The make-believe doesn’t stop when dealing with her mother, her brother, and her cousin. They are part of the conflict when trying to pursue her dreams. Evangeline needs to find a way to put back the hem of her Norm’s skirt back before she leaves the stage.  The pain of the unpaid bills must be enormous and a pain that leads her on all in keeping with the through-line The Queen of Make-Believe.  Still, Ashley does a fine job and is wonderful to watch.

Adrian Brizuela does terrific work as James, a hippie crooner, trying to make it big and discovering that he may have neared the end of his artistic life. Brizuela also plays Edgar, a completely different character, a Chicano activist and rebel rouser, who’s slightly confused of where his actions are taking him and his cause.  Both roles are well executed showing Brizuela off in very fine form.  

Moises Castro is Ray, Evangeline’s brother. Castro has a good look but may need to find better choices to make the character engaging.  Ray seems to follow rather than make conscience choices so it is left to the other characters to make choices for him.  There must be something this character wants, something that excites him to move in his own direction.  He is young but must have an idea of what he wants, what stops him from getting what he wants (conflict), and how he is able to reach his goal.      

Blanca Araceli is a wonderful actor who lights up the stage when she enters.  Her craft is extraordinary and her dancing is exquisite. Alicia is a broken woman who finds her dreams only to lose it once again. Araceli’s performance is heartbreaking. Do not miss her performance!

Keyla Monterroso Mejia is Rita, the cousin with the big heart. Mejia could add more to strengthen the character. Her strength lies in her relationship with her brother, his death, how she deals with it when confronting Evangeline. The anger is understandable but the pain must go deeper when giving the news to her cousin.

Kye McCleary does good work as the understanding dancer, Sandy.  McCleary is statuesque, stunning, and knows her way around the dance floor.  She shows some terrific work in her relationship to the other characters that indicates strong training. She is wonderful to watch.

Michael “Naydoe” Pinedo appears to be just another hippie 60’s dancer but then has a terrific dance number that was just amazing.  It was the beating heart, the soul of the play that made it so astonishing.

Natalie Polisson is another member of the ensemble that needs a slight definition of character and objective.  But the dancing was very fine.

Abel Alvarado, Costume Designer, transports the audience back to 1968.  It is terrific work.

Michele Bachar, Choreographer, also takes us back to 1968 and the dance number with the mother is spot on wonderful.

Gerardo Davalos, Set Designer, give us a workable set and is simple in execution.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Davey Donaldson – Sound Designer
Ginevra Lombardo – Lighting Designer
Gabriela López de Dennis – Graphic Designer
Claudio Rocha – Video Designer
Angela Sonner – Stage Manager

Run! Run! And take someone who loves the sixties music and dancing the next time it comes around.

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