Oxnard, Calif. – By Rita Moran
Mothers-in-law don’t usually get a rousingly positive treatment in theater pieces that focus on them. But Doña Pancha, the grandmother, mother and mother-in-law who gets title billing in “Pedro Infante y La Suegra Triunfante” (“Pedro Infante and the Triumphant Mother-in-Law”) is the center of a fun-loving but thoughtful production by Teatro de las Americas.
Toby Campion’s “comedy with music” played to a full house at Oxnard College Performing Arts Center’s Black Box space Saturday night and continues through July 12. Teatro, active for many years as Ventura County’s most prominent Spanish language theater purveyor, usually presents plays completely in Spanish. But “Pedro Infante” blends in English as it accommodates three generations of a family that began in Mexico and now is settled in Whittier, California. Teatro’s board also is open to presenting plays in English translations from the original Spanish, a move likely to broaden its audience.
Teatro uses English supertitles — diligently prepared by executive director Margaret Cortese — so non-Spanish speakers can follow the onstage dialogue. “Pedtro Infante” drew extra laughs when the playgoers realized that the lively granddaughter’s colloquial California English was appearing in the supertitles translated into Spanish.
Campion, a Santa Barbara-based playwright, was in the near overflow audience Saturday night, taking a modest bow at the production’s conclusion. The play first was presented in 2012 by the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in Los Angeles.
Teatro’s production is codirected by Robert Sanchez and the company’s artistic director, Patricia Casiano, who also appears in the leading role of Doña Pancha. Hugo Contreras is musical director. Making the mix of acting and music work well is a strong cast and good musicianship all around.
The lead actors are particularly effective. As the story unfolds, Doña Pancha’s nostalgia for Mexico is wrapped in her near adoration of Pedro Infante, a real-life Mexican singer-actor who died in 1957. It seems that as a child she attended one of his huge concerts and actually got his autograph.
Juan Gonzales, who plays Pedro Infante, easily makes you believe that he could have been a very popular singer and a suave actor. Gonzales’ voice is gentle and caressing, the type of voice that has fascinated many audiences over decades. Appearing to Doña Pancha after she has taken a tumble and is seeing otherworldly visions, Pedro Infante is dressed in handsome mariachi attire and happily sings a number of songs, some of which the audience sang or clapped along with as they savored the familiarity.
While allowing that he was no model of virtue himself, Pedro Infante suggests to Doña Pancha that family bonds are more important than where you live, and that understanding and kindness are keys to a happier life. Casiano’s Doña Pancho is no slouch herself as a singer and, when she sheds her household attire for a vivid printed dress, is a joyful dancer as well.
Adah Chavez is Chayo, Doña Pancha’s daughter and a successful businesswoman who sees things pretty much in black and white. Sami Anguiano is a charming Andrea, the granddaughter whose boyfriend and potential husband has taken off for Mexico leaving her bereft, when she isn’t being a typical teen concentrating on her cellphone and other electronic devices.
Andres Sanchez is the easily teased husband of Chayo who gets to know their next-door neighbor almost too well after driving over flowers she’s planted. Ellie Gonzalez makes the most of her role of the neighbor, Melanie, who’s dressed to tempt and keeps her motor running just in case a prospect shows up.
The show is a relaxing combination of excellently performed music, some thoughts worth pondering and lots of fun in the lines and portrayals. But it’s worth seeing, and hearing, just to enjoy Gonzalez’s singing.
|2013 Review of 2 de Liera by Rita Moran in the Ventura County Star:Teatro de las Américas inaugurates new, permanent space with two zippy comediesBy Rita MoranThursday, August 22, 2013A happy confluence of energetic actors, a new performance site and a professional director with abundant acting credentials has brought Teatro de las Américas to a new stage, literally and figuratively. In its more than 21 years of existence, Teatro has toured its shows from city to city, carrying its props, lights and sets around Ventura County with dogged dedication to the performance of plays in Spanish, with English supertitles.Now it has settled into a storefront space at the Wagon Wheel Junction, just off Highway 101 and convenient to many theatergoers. Friday’s opening night was a celebration not just of accomplishment but of community support that has joined in the effort to find a suitable spot that can allow the troupe to settle into its own space. Its most recent plays have been given in Oxnard College’s Black Box theater. Now Teatro has created its own black box, complete with permanent lighting and good sound.Directing the initial performance is Jesus Castaños Chima, director of the Latino Theater Program at the 24th Street Theatre in Los Angeles. Theater buffs will recognize him as one of the formidable actors in “La Razon Blindada” at Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre last year.
The substantial crowd was greeted by Teatro’s president, Juan Gonzalez, with brief comments by Margaret Cortese, one of the founders and driving forces behind the company.
Two comedies by the late Mexican playwright Óscar Liera were chosen for the opening of the new theater space: “El Gordo” (The Big One) and “La Pesadilla de Una Noche de Verano.” (Midsummer’s Nightmare). The first centers around a group of family and friends gathered to share the exciting prospect of a huge lottery. Rafaela Garcia is The Niece, Carlicia Castro plays The Aunt, Antonio Jauregui portrays The Friend and Marta Garza-Laird is Lola, the “wet blanket” in the group whose spirits do not rise at the lottery prospect.
Garcia, a student at California Lutheran University, is utterly charming as she runs lickety-split through her system for choosing the right numbers. She adds, subtracts and comes up with perfect numbers, at least she thinks they might be. Castro is the imposing aunt, signaling her family authority from the pink rollers in her hair down to her toes. Jauregui is an animated, if slightly button-down, friend, and Lola is the morose voice of reason, played with obvious glee. The fast-paced play breaks out in expressions of what they’ll do with the prize, including a bumpy boat ride that makes Lola sick and the others ecstatic, at least for a while.
Jauregui is back as The Director in the second play, this time entering with a fanfare and a swish. But he has his hands full with the pompous veteran actress Marina Osorio, played with relish by another Teatro founder, Patricia Casiano. All the director wants at the moment is for Marina to be lifted briefly by fellow actor Godwin Strunfild (Manuel Rodriguez). The first attempt ends quickly as Marina breaks away giggling. It seems she’s ticklish. She’s also very self-focused, to the point that every time the director and Godwin have set the scene Marina thinks of other concerns, and demands, she wants to make clear. What becomes clear instead is that this scene will never get off the ground if Marina has her say. When she’s not adding demands for perks, she’s almost as assiduously trying to get Godwin Strunfild to change his name to something more dashing.
Bolstered by the vision and comprehensive approach of director Chima, the plays are so funny that it’s not even necessary to understand Spanish to appreciate the broad comedy of the plays. Chima, in a post-play question and answer period after Friday night’s opening performances, mentioned a mantra that works as well for audiences as for actors: “Liberate yourselves be a kid again.”
In program notes Chima explained what brought him to direct the plays, given that it required his spending much time commuting to and from L.A. The experience was well worth it, he said, savoring “the work with these actors who do theater solely for love of the art but with a passion not often seen in the pros.”
Email Rita Moran at email@example.com.
© 2013 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online
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