I have a confession. I have a theatre company crush. I know, I know by disclosing my “feelings” I risk you taking everything I say hereafter in this review as being biased. But, hear me out. Teatro Vision has long been near and dear to my heart. They remain to this day the only theatre company I can recollect that has never disappointed me. Always interesting. Always intellectually stimulating. Always passionate. Always meaningful, relevant, real, memorable. Always entertaining. If this theatre company were a man, good lord help me, I couldn’t make a complete and utter fool of myself faster. It is because of this…I’ll say it, I’m not afraid… love for Teatro’s past work that I embarked on a small marketing mission for Teatro. Again, I know I risk all of my credibility with that statement, but it’s worth the risk in an effort to encourage an audience to their latest artistic endeavour (the first stop on a national tour by the Los Angeles Latino Theater Company of a production of Solitude) and to their upcoming work Macario. Consider it a responsible disclaimer and then promptly ignore it. It was my “job” to market the show before it opened. I am not at all required to write a review, positive or otherwise, but after last night I am compelled to do so.
To say Solitude is a layered piece is an understatement but, not in a cluttered, confusing or overly elite and isolating way. Quite the opposite in fact. This is an immigrant’s story at once both unique to the Chicano experience and universal in its roots in the fundamentally human experiences of birth, death and all that “life” in between. Inspired by the Chicano experiences explored in Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz’s essay collection “The Labyrinth of Solitude” this play is steeped in deep thought. The essays themselves are beautifully written, check them out if you’re so inclined, but do not for a moment think you will not identify with this play if you don’t or if you’re not of Chicano heritage. You will identify. You’ll have no choice. Solitude will seep into your soul and awaken thoughts and feelings regardless of your own back story.
Since you’re going to see the show (you promised me, I heard you) I won’t go into too much detail on the specifics of the play but, creatively I adored this production. Live cello scores this piece creating a fluid emotional undertone that accents and suggests all that you’re feeling while you watch. Mambo music and choreography weave together the vignettes seamlessly. Humor penetrates even the most heart-breaking moments of inconsolable grief. The eloquent phrasing and pacing of the script’s poetry is married with gorgeous, vibrant, lasting visual pictures. Sometimes subliminal, almost definitely metaphorical, this show is beautiful with its curves, turns, twists, truths and rhythms. From soliloquies to silhouettes, from dialogue and slow motion staging that seems to bend the time space continuum in front of you, this show colorfully impresses and will have you thinking for days.
And, here’s the kicker. Last night there was a Q & A session with the actors, playwright and director post show. Now, I always love these and recommend attending on a night that has one if you can for extra insight into choices and the process (there’s another one after the Saturday 2pm show FYI) but, last night was hugely meaningful on an unexpected level. When the final question from the audience was taken, the audience got an additional experience that honestly brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. A boy, maybe 18 or 19, stood up, an act of courage in and of itself. He spoke directly to Sal Lopez who played Johnny and happens to have been in several well-known films (the cast is full of them, famous people that is) that this kid referenced. This boy was neither terribly well spoken nor very loud but what he said moved every last person in that room on a cellular level. He’s grown up watching movies like American Me. He’s grown up with gangs or as he put it “with Red and Blue.” He shared briefly his loss of friends and by doing so exposed this heavy sense of being lost himself. He pleaded to Sal, how does he get his remaining friends, caught in the warfare, to listen? What do they do when they are trying to fit in and fitting in means choosing an identity whose “community” tears people’s lives apart? What is the answer? Cue the tears. This play deals with choices, identity, life, death, poverty, escape, regret, hope, hunger, desire, loss, fate, community, family, alternatives…and here was a kid, literally caught in the crossfire of life, looking up to art for a solution. How proud “we” were that he was even AT the theatre. What a powerful reminder for that room of the significance of art, the importance of live theatre, the relevance of their work, the role models in our community and the problems that still need solving.
That moment and everything wrapped inside of that moment is why Teatro Vision exists. This boy is precisely what Teatro has been committed to for 28 years. Yes. You read that correctly. 28 years. And how is it you’ve not been to see their work/passion? This boy IS Teatro’s mission: “Teatro Vision is a Chicano theater company that celebrates culture, nurtures community and inspires vision. Our art will move people to feel, think and act to create a better world.Teatro is an art form that can heal, inspire, promote identity and stimulate the self-empowerment necessary for people to become effective leaders in improving their lives and their communities. ”
There are 500 seats in the gorgeous Mexican Heritage Plaza Theater, I’d love to see them all full. Come to Solitude to find out “what’s in the box.” Come to form your own opinion about Juana. Come to find out if Sonia is being a bitch. Come and fall in love with Johnny’s joking, with Mona’s triumphant joie de vivre and with Teatro Vision. I unabashedly present Solitude with the exceedingly rare 5 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for an intelligent, compelling, creative, visually resonant, socially epic piece of theatre. Solitude plays through Sunday only at the Mexican Heritage Plaza Theater in San Jose.