Family and friends. Hard to define. Impossible to predict and control. The culture, locale or situation may vary, but the ties are binding, if inevitably unstable.
Everything is relative in “Boyle Heights,” a comic drama written by Josefina Lopez in 2009. Lopez was born in Mexico and moved to the titular L.A. neighborhood when she was five. For the San Diego premiere, to make the references more local and familiar, OnStage Productions received special permission from the playwright to change the play’s name to “Logan Heights.” Lopez has fond feelings for our town, since she got her dramatic start as a teen, winning Playwrights Project’s Young Playwrights contest for “Simply Maria,” and went on to attend UCSD and write “Real Women Have Curves,” which was a successful play and film.
At OnStage, Bryant Hernandez directs a game cast that handles the Spanish vernacular with aplomb. Their acting acumen varies, but there are some compelling performances and touching moments here.
At the center of this story is charming Jennifer Paredes as Dahlia, a dreamer and poet much like her playwright-creator; she’s the black sheep of the family, attending college, wanting to assimilate and explore options, not just follow in the well-worn path of all the other Latinas in the neighborhood, including her two sisters: getting pregnant young, marrying young and settling for the rest of their lives. The neighborhood is changing, rules and roles are changing. Even her parents are changing, though her hidebound but loving father, delightfully played by Goyo Flores, is stuck in the old ways, and even wants to return to the Old Country in his retirement. His wife (Olivia Ruiz Marrujo ) is the rock of the family, and reluctantly, she complies with her husband in the end, to maintain the peace – and the marriage.
The play reveals the repeating cycles of generations, but the time-hops are not clearly delineated, and it’s easy to lose track of who’s who and who’s with whom (which is to say, which boyfriend the parents don’t approve of; which daughter is being banished).
Sitting atop the roof, Dahlia writes about the life going by beneath her, dreaming of travel and adventure. Then she meets graffiti artist Chava (who may be her “boyfriend number 23”), engagingly played by Carlos Angel-Barajas, and they have a meeting of the minds. He’s the only one who understands what she wants out of life. Their connection is the fulcrum of this production, which, like the play, is well-intentioned but not quite fully realized.
Moving across the pond, to a fusty manor aptly named Fustian House, we meet two older women without family or apparently, friends, in Peter Shaffer’s smart, sassy “ Lettice and Lovage .”
Lettice and Lottie couldn’t be more different. Lettice is flamboyant and theatrical, bringing drama to her dreary job as tour guide at Fustian House. Lacking excitement in the manor’s moldy history, she embellishes, expands, and invents facts and occurrences, to the horror of straitlaced, buttoned-up Lottie, an employee of the National Trust, and therefore, Lettice’s boss. Appalled by the inaccuracies and falsifications, she summarily dismisses Lettice . Later, she feels remorse, and visits Lettice at her home. With the help of an inhibition-loosening drink (the lovage of the title) , they strike up an unlikely friendship, which is seriously tested when the police break down the door, finding Lettice wielding an axe and Lottie bleeding from the head.
The story is as over-the-top as Lettice’s confabulations, but Shaffer’s linguistic legerdemain makes the evening enchanting, and the Scripps Ranch Theatre production is delectable. Under the ace direction of Kathy Brombacher, Jill Drexler’s Lettice and Dana Hooley’s Lottie are a perfect pair. Rounding out the cast, in several often hilarious incarnations, are Debra Wanger and the always solid and credible Tom Stephenson.
The set (N. Dixon Fish) deftly transforms for the two locales, and the costumes (Roslyn Lehman) are consistently varied and amusing. This is one dramatic friendship you can really count on.
“ Lettice and Lovage ” runs through October 6 at Scripps Ranch Theatre on the campus of Alliant University.
“Logan Heights” continues through October 12 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista.
©2013 Pat Launer