KPBS AIRDATE: May 14, 1997
‘Tis the season to be… parents. And actor/writer Rick Najera has sent his folks the most charming remembrance — on stage at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. It’s “A Quiet Love,” a valentine to his late father and a big, fragrant bouquet to his mother. A native San Diegan, Najera has been dubbed “the most innovative and provocative Latino humorist in the country.” His memory play, in which he portrays himself, traces the history of his family, from the grandparents who, in 1928, were the first Mexicans in Logan Heights, to Rick and his four sibs, who grew up in Barrio La Mesa, as they call it. “Barrio” means ‘neighborhood,’” his theatrical father tells us. “La Jolla’s a barrio.”
Locally, Najera is probably best remembered as the founder of the boffo-political comedy troupe, Latins Anonymous. But he moved on to Hollywood, a place, he tells us in the play, where he gets to ”work with some of the most highly paid miserable people in the world.“ He’s written for some of the top comics in the country, as well as performing at major theatres and writing for TV. He brings all his prodigious talents to bear in “A Quiet Love.”
First and foremost, we get a generous helping of his humor. The laugh-lines come fast and frequently. But they’re often laced with irony, sarcasm, and the bitter taste of being told in the business, he’s either “too ethnic” or “not ethnic enough.” Now the Rep has commissioned Rick to write about his family. So, that’s the setup. Rick talks to the audience (which may be the play’s only misstep), and he interviews his ailing, courageous, Dale Carnegie-spouting father, his ever-chipper mother and secretive, sulking brother. And each of them has time alone center-stage with Rick’s tape recorder.
The story of three generations of Najeras unfolds, with flashbacks and dream sequences, backed by projections of early San Diego scenes, and real-life family photos. It’s very touching, and rarely overly sentimental. There’s sixty years of history here, including family poets, feminist/unionists, tuna cannery workers, waiters, government employees, soldiers, and cock fights.
This was a family that was highly assimilated. Rick mispronounces Spanish words. His mother’s a Chicana June Cleaver with an Iowa accent. And Aunt Sophie, hilariously played by Linda Castro, thinks the Mexican illegals immigrants are causing all the problems.
(CLIP: “Those illegals are ruining everything… Illegal is illegal.)
This is a slice of Chicano life we don’t always get to taste. There aren’t any real revelations here, but sons and their dying fathers, estranged brothers, and mothers who just want everyone to get along — this we can all relate to.
What makes it so much easier — and so much fun — is Doug Jacobs’ spirited direction and his first-rate cast. Bill Dunnam, Lamont Thompson and Linda Castro play 14 roles; they’re splendidly versatile. As the mother who inspired the title, Catalina Maynard is heartbreaking in her devotion to her family, and Emmy Award-winning actor Henry Darrow is superb as the father everyone would love to have. Rick is Rick: solid, credible, funny, maybe a little too close to it all at times. That’s his heart up there, and his heritage.
It’s a tribute to his family, and to his talent — a sweet, affecting, engaging reminiscence.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1997 Patté Productions Inc.