Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
June 27, 2014
Funny thing about Chicano drama: it’s often rife with silliness. Shakespeare built comic relief into his tragedies. So, you can expect even more in a Latino adaptation of “Henry IV, Part I,” created by Culture Clash co-founder Herbert Siguenza.
As part of its site-specific Without Walls series, the La Jolla Playhouse is presenting “El Henry” in association with the San Diego REP, whose artistic director, Sam Woodhouse, directs, con brio.
The site is a star of this wild, propulsive world premiere. SILO at Makers Quarter, in a developing East Village area, is a graffiti-strewn sand-lot, perfect for this post-Anglo romp, set in 2045, in Aztlan City, formerly San Diego.
Gangs, violence and corruption rule. Clashing Chicanos, Latinos and Hispanics speak a non-Shakespearean mashup of Spanish and English swear-words and slang. Siguenza, personalizing the piece with local references, like “Abnormal Heights,” plays Fausto , the over-stuffed, dissipated Falstaff stand-in, who talks directly to the audience – mostly seated on bleachers. His overblown antics, the show’s goofiest moments, could be toned down a tad.
What works best here is the drama. The story hews close to Shakespeare’s original: El Henry is the wayward son of the King of the Barrio. But when his father is threatened by gang wars and imprisonment, like his Elizabethan predecessor, he renounces his debauched buddies and reclaims his honor, destiny and family loyalty.
His confrontation with his father, expertly played by John Padilla, is dynamic. And when El Henry challenges his nemesis, El Bravo, it’s a brilliant face-off between the two charismatic, mega-talented sons of renowned playwright Luis Valdez: Lakin and Kinan , mano a mano , in a heart-stopping knife-fight to the death. Roxane Carrasco stands out for her versatility and agility.
Jennifer Brawn Gittings’ re-purposed costumes are phenomenal, from Steampunk to Road Warrior chic. The props, original music, stacks of computer monitors and genuine low-riders add deliciously gritty reality.
This San Diego spectacle amplifies our cross-cultural concerns. For its site, size and audacity, it earns a great big Bravo.
“El Henry” runs through June 29 at the SILO at Makers Quarter in the East Village, downtown.
©2014 PAT LAUNER