Wednesday, August 24, 2022

ASF: "American Mariachi"

Part family drama, part dementia themed, part conflict between patriarchy and new feminists, part LGBTQ concerns, part history lesson, part cultural diversity study -- all infused with dynamic live mariachi music -- Jose Cruz Gonzalez's American Mariachi closed its run at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival last weekend.

That's a lot to pack into a mere 100-minutes in a play that could benefit from editing/expanding to achieve a clearer focus.

Tia Carmen [Erenidra Izguerra] haunts the memory of Soyla [Gloria Vivica Benevides] who is suffering from dementia and under the care of her daughter Lucha [Elizabeth Romero] while her father Federico [Ricardo Gutierrez] supports the family as a mariachi musician. -- Lucha wants to start her own mariachi group, but it is 1970, and women traditionally don't play mariachi.

But Lucha persists, challenged by finding other women to join her despite the patriarchy that dominates their individual lives and their Mexican American culture, challenged by having to split her time between caring for her mother and pursuing her dreams, challenged by the mysterious rift between her father and Uncle Mino [Bobby Plasencia]...and we follow her growth as a musician and as a young woman to an eventual empowering resolution of both her private and public lives.

There is a mix of humor and pathos -- and some touching scenes that develop an understanding between generations and how to deal with afflictions. 

At the forefront is the music: first, the solemn and passionate violin of Tia Carmen; then the solo and group of mariachi men; and eventually the blossoming of a female mariachi unit. All of which carries audiences forward in the story of the fulfillment of achievable dreams.

Cloverdale Playhouse: "Treasure Island"

Aaaarrrgh! Ahoy, mateys! Shiver me timbers! -- At the penultimate performance of the Covid-delayed Cloverdale Playhouse production 0f Treasure Island, energy was high on stage and the audience was enthusiastic in its response.

Bryony Lavery's adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson 19th Century classic novel takes a number of liberties with the plot and characters, offering up a version that switches genders and infuses a lot of comic elements into the tale of Jim Hawkins's adventures in search of a lost pirate treasure.

Jim [Olive Henninger] serves as the play's narrator, taking audiences on a quest for Captain Flint's buried treasure with Squire Trelawney [Noah Henninger], Doctor Livsey [Bella Dennison], Captain Smollett [Landon Perdue], the nefarious Long John Silver [John Selden], and a mixed bag of pirate ruffians and a few good guys.

Director J. Scott Grinstead also designed an ambitious set complete with a revolving stage and a lot of other moveable parts that sometimes distracted from the smooth advancement of the plot. 

Costume designer Katie Pearson and her able team provided clever outfits appropriate to each character: memorable in this regard were for Mr. Selden's Long John Silver [with a couple of nods to Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean], Black Dog [Mike Winkelman], Bill Bones [Jacob Holmberg], and Blind Pew & Ben Gunn played by Jason Grinstead.

While the familiar story was given a rousing interpretation, a lot of important expository plot details were hard to hear due to rapid speech and "pirate" gravel-voices, as well as noisy stage business.  

These quibbles notwithstanding, the ensemble nature of the actors and the enthusiastic commitment to their roles helped to make this version of Treasure Island a pleasant Summertime entertainment.