By Pat Launer
Fantasy and history, narrative and song,
In “ Corridos Remix,’ Luis sings along
‘ Alice ’ at the Looking Glass, gamely stepping through,
Falls into a rabbit hole at SDSU.
The drama’s both onstage and off. “ Corridos REMIX” parallels and summarizes the life and work of Luis Valdez – his fascination with the history of the Americas , preserving the past, looking to the future, teaching about our ‘continental heritage’ and passing on his life’s legacy. With his middle son, Kinan , Valdez co-wrote the world premiere revision of his original “ Corridos ,” which made a brief visit to the Globe and won a Peabody Award when it aired on PBS in 1987. Now Luis, who always thinks of his work (from the fields of Delano to the present) as teaching as well as inspiring, plays El Maestro, the teacher/master, a stuffy academic, ethnomusicologist who’s collected a literal trunkload of international corridos , dramatic narratives typically told in song, dance, action and frequently, comedy.
It’s like déjà vu to see Luis standing up on that trunk expostulating, just as he stood on the flatbed trucks in his César Chavez days, teaching and preaching, instructing and inspiring, referring to his “40 years of memories of the New World .” Luis rides again! He bestrides “this treasure-chest of my life’s work, a living tradition,” wondering if he’ll find “the natural heir.” This was a concern in last year’s “Earthquake Sun” as well – passing the torch, sharing the riches, naming a successor.
Valdez has three sons, all of whom are in the ‘family business,’ El Teatro Campesino , which he founded in 1965. He’s far from finished, and seems to have plenty of piss, vinegar and plays in him. But probably ever since a serious illness a few years back, legacy is very much on his mind. Kinan seems a likely heir. He looks and sounds like Luis, has his fire and talent – for directing, writing and acting. And his contributions to this script are obvious; he adds his 21st century sensibility to the mix. Valdez Senior, very much a child of the ‘60s, probably put the Beatles and Woody Guthrie in there; Kinan almost certainly contributed Alicia Keys, Rage Against the Machine and the narcocorridos , the current, controversial, political, dark-and-dirty drug-running border narratives.
The focus of this show-full of multicultural, multilingual corridos (projected translations provided) is, as we’re told in the more didactic moments of the play, “the universality of immigrant labor,” the “survival instinct of the wretched,” “the blood of different mundos .” The narrative thread is weak, but it serves to weave these disparate story-songs together.
El Maestro is trying to pass his collection, and his heritage, to his newfound and reluctant granddaughter, a hip, “transnational troubadour” who’s more interested in the future than the past. But they’re connected by the pain of abandonment, and their search for the long-lost junkie punk-rocker, Eddie Gallo – her father, his son. They begin to bond musically, retelling historical tales from Asia, Africa and Latin America , in the process, co-creating ‘a new American consciousness.’ Some of these songs are more apt and more powerful than others. Standouts include the sad tale of “Modesto Ayala,” the upper class, sickly Mexican girl with the lower class criollo ( creole ) lover; “El Corrido de Juan Enrico ,” or John Henry, beautifully enacted with a potent central performance by Robert Barry Fleming. “The Appeal of John Chinaman,” an immigrant story set during the California gold rush, was most notable for the performance (and appearance!) of Luis as a queue-wearing Asian. The second act