KPBS AIRDATE: April 16, 1997
Rudolfo Anaya has been called “the poet of the barrio,” “the father of Chicano literature in English,” a remarkable storyteller who has written unpretentiously but provocatively about Mexican-American culture and identity.
In his first and best-selling 1972 novel, “Bless Me, Ultima,” Anaya examines remembered youth. In his 1990 play, “Ay, Compadre!,” he turns his attention toward middle age. More straightforward and realistic, more comical and less mystical than his novels, “Ay, Compadre!” is nonetheless a joyful confrontation of serious themes that clearly cross cultural boundaries.
The compadres of the title are Ignacio and Daniel, buddies closer than brothers, who’ve worked their way out of the barrio, to make a good life among the gringos. Now they’ve got fancy houses and kids in college and an aching sense of cultural isolation and midlife crisis. It’s partly a problem of losing the chispa, the spark (and the erection), but in a broader sense, for the men and their menopausal wives, it’s about las ganas, the hungries — for the old prowess, for life, for a little cariño, or tenderness and affection.
The Latino Ensemble de San Diego, in co-production with Centro Cultural de la Raza, follows up their excellent inaugural collaboration in style. Director Marcos Martinez, who acted in last year’s “Last Angry Brown Hat,” reassembles a couple of his capable compadres, and pairs them with charming onstage esposas.
As Iggy, John Padilla Silva is as energetic, life-loving and as stereotypically macho as they come, though he could lose some of that repetitive, singsong prosody. Gregorio Flores‘ Daniel is a credible plumber, but hard to swallow as a poet. His final, liberating confession, however, is thrilling.
As their wives, Sylvia Enrique is a mousy Linda, until her wonderful scene with Helen, when she turns wistful and reminiscent about her first experience with love and sex. Sex and longing ooze from Silvia Torres’ Helen, who is the external macha feminista, but inside, more traditional and subservient than her silent-suffering comadre.
There is plenty of raw talk here, and a sizable addition to my Spanish lexicon — words and expressions no teacher ever taught me. You don’t need to know Spanish to appreciate or identify, but you might miss some of the more colorful language.
The production values are bare-bones at the Centro, but this production, and this production company, are certainly well worth watching.
With a lot more technical wizardry at its disposal, the SDSU Drama Department has created a superbly evocative set for a production that otherwise has ‘amateur’ written all over it. “The Me Nobody Knows” is based on the writings of some 200 children from the ghetto. In 1970, it was staged and set to music, and New York Times theater critic Clive Barnes called it “one of the most meaningful and ultimately joyful shows of the season.”
When, a quarter century later, the thing just doesn’t work, you have to ask, ‘Is it the piece or the production?’ After careful consideration, I’d have to say that, in this case, it’s the production. Although extremes of drugs, sex, AIDS, and violence have been added to the schoolyard in the intervening years, there is still a great deal of relevant emotion here, a lot of adolescent anguish and yet, a lot of hope. Most of the cast seems mis-cast, most are straining to reach notes out of their range. The standout in what should be a seamless ensemble is Gary Pasillas as Carlos, who writes letters to his teacher from prison.
The talent base is clearly there at SDSU; last year’s “Sing a Song of Hollywood” was a wholly professional presentation. But this clunky production never gets off the ground, and it ought to soar.
©1997 Patté Productions Inc.