The Old Globe Theatre in association with Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company is presenting the world premiere production of “American Mariachi” by José Cruz González on the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage through April 29th.
In the Latino tradition the Mariachi is a Mexican street band usually played by strolling male musicians dressed in native costumes. It is definitely germane to our Baja California area where yours truly first heard a group playing on a long ago jaunt to Tijuana. Our story, though takes place in the mid ‘70’s in a Latino community somewhere in the Midwestern United States.
Like so many other patriarchal family led traditions, Mariachi was off limits to girls/women. So when Lucha (a sweet, proud and determined Jennifer Paredes) and her feisty cousin and best friend Boli (a sharp tongued and funny Heather Velazquez) come up with the idea of forming an all women Mariachi Band to raise money to help her mother Amalia (a sympathetic and beautiful Doreen Montalvo) regain some of her past beloved memories, she almost runs into a brick wall.
|Left to Right: Tom Tinoco, Fernando Guadalupe Zarate Hernandez, Bobby Plasencia, Erick Jiminez, and Ruben Mari|
“American Mariachi” is as much about tradition as it is about deep seeded memories of that tradition. Lucha’s mother Amalia is showing signs of dementia and seems pretty much detached from all things family.
The one thing that seems to refresh her mother’s memory is a song her father, Federico (persuasive and angry Bobby Plascencia) a mariachi himself when he’s not working in the local restaurant, recorded for her on the day of their wedding. But it’s not just that one piece that brings life into her failing mind, its all mariachi music that seems to stir something in her.
Lucha is her primary caregiver. For now she has put her nursing education on hold until the family can raise enough money to help take care of her mother. She comes up with the idea of forming an all women’s mariachi band to open more possibilities for her mother to show signs of recovery.It would not be telling tales out of school either that Lucha and Boli are pushing the envelope to start this women's mariachi.
|Jennifer Paredes, Luis Quintero and Heather Velazquez|
Having the instruments that make up a mariachi band are expensive and pertinent to the sound and it would be a setback if they did not have them. Specific to mariachi are violins, Mexican Vihuela (a creation of the Coca Indians of Southwestern Jalisco high pitched in sound, Guitar, Trumpet and Guitarrde Golpe. To this end, Lucha enlists the help of her ‘uncle’ Mateo (Luis Quintero).
Mateo, a former mariachi and an expert in the making and repairing of musical instruments, is a bit shy on that account since he and Federico have not spoken in years because of a misunderstanding between the two. It’s a short story complicated by macho stubbornness.
|(from left) Heather Velazquez, Doreen Montalvo, and Jennifer Paredes|
Set against this background and with the strolling mariachi band (Eric Jimenez, Rubin Marín, Tom Tinoco and Fernando Guadalupe Zárate Hernandez) showing up and playing in the isles of the theatre, the balcony on the set (Regina Garcia), and Amalia slipping in and out of lucidness in heartbreaking realities Gabby and Lucha spend their time looking for candidates who can sing, play and become a true all women mariachi band.
|Jennifer Paredes and Doreen Montalvo|
Their search takes them to Soyla’s (sexy and outgoing Crissy Guerrero) hair salon, shy to a fault Gabby (Natalie Camunas) and Isabel (a convincing Amanda Robles) who is dominated by a bully husband, but in the end frees herself rom his bullying and machismo ways. With lots of rehearsing and silliness the girls finally get some gigs and help with their fancy dress mariachi outfits. (Meghan Anderson Doyle).
Three stories play out with the focus on the painful unfolding of Lucha’s, Federico and Amalia’s family dynamic at its center. The others swirl around its orbit and while most of Gonzalez’s story is predictable; it none-the-less strikes nerves that it could and does happen in any family.
Local director James Vásquez used his huge toolbox as to make sure the authenticity of the cast was Latino, every one in the cast was willing to learn to play an instrument even though at the outset, many did not, and that everyone ‘embodied familia, amor, and tradición 100 %.’The warmth, cohesiveness and camaraderie readily show.
|(from left) Amanda Robles, Jennifer Paredes, Natalie Camunas, Crissy Guerrero, and Heather Velazquez|
Ken Travis, Cynthia Reifler Flores and Paul Miller excel in sound design, musical direction and the shades of lighting. My one suggestion would be to have subtitles a la ‘opera text’ when Spanish is spoken and especially when jokes are being told especially for those of us with no bilingual smarts.
The reality of living with Alzheimer’s, while living the dream that music will bring it peace to Amalia is the stuff that brings tears to ones eyes and hope and renewal to the weary soul.
“American Mariachi” is a long welcome move for the shakers of The Old Globe. As a side note Ms. Parades was awarded Actress of the Year by the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle for her body of work. She was working in the Denver production at the time and could not be at the awards ceremony. Her excellence for the many productions in which she appeared that many might not have seen in her body of work over the past year is well spoken to her talent in this production.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through April 29th
Organization: The Old Globe Theatre
Production Type: Musical/Comedy
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage
Photo: Jim Cox