Three full-length plays in one evening? That’s ambitious.
A century in a family’s life, spanning four generations and two cultures? Ambitious again.
The Latino Theater Company pulls it off with panache in its newest creation, A Mexican Trilogy: An American Story. The three plays — Faith, Hope and Charity — are onstage at downtown’s LA Theatre Center. Using a bold scenic design (by Francois-Pierre Couture) that stacks a half-dozen playing areas in an upstage box wall; powerfully dramatic projections (by Yee Eun Nam); and a daring sound design (by John Zalewski), the LTC troupe unfolds its panoramic tale with wit and warmth, punctuating the story with adroitly chosen popular songs.
The cycle begins in a Mexico swept by revolution, moves to an Arizona mining town and then to Phoenix, and ends in the Los Angeles of 2005. We follow la familia as it evolves, with the twelve actors shifting characters along the way. Yet as family members grow and change and die, we also see how some things endure, like traditions, or keep showing up, like genes or habits.
One danger in such an ambitious undertaking is overwhelm — will we lose track of the many-stranded story, or lose interest over the six hours of its telling? We don’t. Every element of the production is handled so skilfully that we stay effortlessly engaged, even over the break for dinner (or as we did, from one evening to the next).
Another danger is stereotyping — moving through an entire century and 30 characters in six hours, can each person appear individual and real? Will historic events be merely quick cartoons? Again, no problem. As swiftly as the story moves, the playwright gives each character time to reveal inner layers, and the actors make it happen. And the projections and sound design make each crucial moment echo long after it has passed, as such moments do in memory.
In an ensemble production of such uniformly high quality, it’s nearly impossible to single out artists. Whether handling one role (as Lucy Rodriguez does throughout, and Robert Beltran does in Charity) or several (as everyone else does), the actors demonstrate impressive range and versatility. Even the playwright, Fernández, steps into four roles across the three plays.
Nothing about A Mexican Trilogy leads us to expect a musical. So we are surprised early on when the sisters Faith, Hope and Elena manage a credible imitation of the Andrews Sisters; then they get even better; and then later, we are stunned by the solos of Ella Saldaña North and Esperanza America. Sal Lopez — who handles a handful of roles, from young priest to aged paterfamilias to a burned-out veteran — also croons romanticos; and Julio Macias and Kenneth Miles Ellington step into power rock classics with ease.
Now three decades old, the Latino Theater Company under founder José Luis Valenzuela has matured into a troupe that can take on any challenge, as their masterful handling of this epic demonstrates. A Mexican Trilogy: An American Story is not only a dynamic theatrical experience, it’s a vital cultural record. It deserves to be seen all over this country — and perhaps Mexico as well. The only question is how many companies can match LTC’s bold artistry, or will dare to try.
A Mexican Trilogy: An American Story, by Evelina Fernández, directed by José Luis Valenzuela.
Presented by the Latino Theater Company, at the LA Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles 90013.
Thursdays (Part A) and Fridays (Part B) at 8:00,
Saturdays at 5:00 (Part A) and 8:30 (Part B),
Sundays at 3:00 (Part A) and 6:30 (Part B),through October 9th.
Tickets: <www.TheLATC.org> or (866) 811-4111.