KPBS AIRDATE: February 14, 2003
It’s a big week for mammoth undertakings of political proportion. UCSD has tackled Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America, Part I,” still one of the most brilliant pieces of theater of the late 20th century. Under the direction of MFA student Meredith McDonough, they’ve infused it with a decidedly post-Enron esthetic; it still cuts chillingly to the bone. And choreographer Gina Angelique just wound up Eveoke Dance Theatre’s homage to “Rebel Women,” an apparent attempt to capture all of womankind onstage — in a lengthy, gargantuan, often heart-stopping tribute to ground-breakers past and present.
Then there’s the San Diego Repertory Theatre, premiering “Nuevo California,” three years in the making and based on more than 200 interviews with residents on both sides of the border. This is a massive project, with two playwrights — Bernardo Solano and Allan Havis — and a cast of ten standing in for a screaming horde of thousands. It’s 2028, and The Big One has wiped out L.A. and Orange County. A new city-state is being formed, joining San Diego and Tijuana. NewCal is controversial, as is tearing down the border wall. That’s the premise, but the creators have a lot more on their minds. Too much, in fact. With Felipe, the world’s first Mexican-American Pope in town to bless the destruction of the wall, the play begins to background the border issues and focus on the pontiff, and the mystery and magical bird that stalk him. The piece becomes more about internal than external boundaries; ultimately, it’s a potent examination of faith and trust. The bilingual, bicultural play is enthralling and ethereal, but it still needs work. The exposition is clumsy and there are many unnecessary elements — including the reporter/narrator, the bird (unless its role and symbolism are clarified) and the murderer, whose identity and motivation remain ill-defined to the end.
But we’re captivated by the enigmatic, multilingual rapper, Sin Fin, nimbly portrayed by Jennifer Chu, and the scandalous Pope, a chameleon-like John Campion, comprising the only true futuristic ingredients in the mix. There’s a sweet, budding, cross-border romance between credible Steve Lipinsky and the sad and beautiful Raquel Presa, but that’s a thing of the present, as are the shrilly opinionated, repetitive border residents. What we come away with is far more about breaking down barriers than tearing down fences. Hail to the Rep for creating something new, taking a risk, and forcing us to confront our multicultural morass. “Nuevo California” may not be anything like where we’ll live in 25 years. The play’s imagination and intrigue lie in its individual journeys, the personal boundaries more than the binational fantasies.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.