KPBS AIRDATE: March 8, 1995
Everyone’s got a right to sing the blues. But maybe Sylvie more than most. A third runner-up blonde bombshell beauty queen (“Near Miss Texas”) abandoned by her father, hooked on alcohol and Mexicans, her Latino husband is shipped off to prison for a robbery he didn’t commit, and he leaves her in the care of his crusty old widower father. During Al’s two year incarceration, Sylvie falls in love with her father-in-law, and they run off. No wonder she’s singin’ the blues.
With a blues guitarist onstage, and Sylvie singin’ her heart out most of the evening, “El Paso Blue” is itself like a blues ballad: a tragic tale of love, betrayal and revenge, guilt and fate and shame, it’s an intimate story of mythic proportion. It’s all about the healing, unifying, deadly and destructive power of love. And on an equally large scale, it’s about the complex, unpredictable, often misguided relationship between Anglo and Latino cultures.
Sylvie is drawn to Al for his darkness, his fire, his honesty. He’s attracted by her blonde beauty; to him, she’s the American dream, the embodiment of hope, belonging and the potential for success. They both turn out to be false images. Nothing here is quite what it seems, or what you expect. Writer/director Octavio Solis hauls us along on his wacky, western chase. Yes, wacky. There are really hilarious moments here.
For instance, there’s Al’s dimwitted sidekick Duane, who, having taken a shot in the head to protect his buddy, now has a metal plate in his skull that picks up shortwave radio broadcasts. All of a sudden, Duane will lapse into convulsive spurts of police dispatch reports intercut with CB trucker-talk, fast-food orders and fighter plane communiqués. Then there’s China, a Chicana street person with a mission of her own, who packs an ammonia-filled water gun and serves as the street-wise conscience of the piece.
From sleazy bars to a run-down, dusty church, to the desert hovel where Al was born, Solis races us in and out of time, present and past, in a 95 minute chase with more twists than you’d imagine, an exciting ride filled with hope and dread.
He’s in total control. As a playwright, Solis just keeps getting better and better, though he still needs to avoid the temptation of rhymed couplet dialogue. But this piece is far more mature than “Man of the Flesh” and more cogently realized than “Burning Dreams,” both of which also played at the San Diego Rep. There’s an urgency and vivacity here; the characters are multi-dimensional and enigmatic. The language is lush and lyrical. As a director, Solis knows how to move the action and move the audience.
He’s brought the two women from his San Francisco production. Both can be a bit weak in vocal projection, but they are powerful counterparts: Delia MacDougall as the confused blonde dreamer, and Mónica Sanchez as the cynical Chicana. Vic Trevino is an anguished, hunky Al, and Pace Ebbeson is an aptly discombobulated Duane. As El Jefe, the revitalized father-in-law, Leon Singer makes a difficult journey from anger and resentment to remorse and love.
With its dusty Western setting, inventive staging, provocative storyline and sometimes haunting score, this forceful production of “El Paso Blue” has a way of getting under your skin; days later, you’re surprised to find a word, image or melody swirling around in your head. Just like a good, sad, bluesy ballad.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.