Trying to Blend In

So far, our experience with the Fall Van Nuys High School non-musical production has been spotty. Usually they have been ethnic comedies (Scapino, Varney the Vampire) that no one has heard of, or classics executed poorly. This year, however, Van Nuys did something different: Two dramas in rotation. We saw one of them last night, “Latina“, by Milcha Sanchez-Scott. Van Nuys did an excellent job with the drama—much better than their comedies—and even with the normal HS production flaws, I would recommend this production.

Latina“, at its heart, is a bilingual exploration of the hispanic immigrant experience. The lead character, Sara Gomez, is trying to embrace the American experience and blending in. She has gone the proper path: learned flawless English, gotten her citizenship, gotten a job. But she’s still sterotyped by her looks and her names, and she fears being treated as a maid, and hates losing jobs because she’s “too exotic”. She also has blended in so much she no longer stands up for her heritage when people drop into “those people” stereotypes. She works as a secretary at a domestic agency, and her coworkers and the employment pool reflect the other sides of the immigrant experience: the businessman who wants to make it in the American world, the workers with green cards who both attempt to get jobs while retaining their heritage, to the illegals who are in fear of “la migra”, and retain their fears. It is a dramatic story that draws you in because it is obviously drawn from real experience; further, I think this is an experience that will resonate with the demographically-higher-hispanic audience of Van Nuys HS (and it did, as demonstrated by the quiet during the performances).

The acting, for the most part, was spot-on and not overdone—which is rare for a high school production. In fact, I can’t really think of areas that were overacted; the problems were more the occasional line hesitations and pauses. Those aren’t a big deal; these actors have a lot on their mind, what with college application season being in full force. The directing, by the drama teacher Randy Olea, was actually pretty good: he made actors who don’t know spanish sound hispanic with few problems (although at times, I was wondering why they were talking about so many “jews” on stage). But they got the language right, they moved in a believable fashion, and they presented their emotions in a believable, non-overdone fashion, which is all one can really ask for.

Some of the performances were really excellent. There are a few folks I’d like to highlight. As the lead Sara/Sarita Gomez, Priscilla Legaspi was excellent—believable, and vivacious and all-together a delight to watch. Also strong was Quest Sky Zeidler as Don Felix Sanchez. I’ve seen this young man grow in skill from his days at Nobel Middle School, and he’s turning into a fine actor who did a great job as the grasping businessman. Quest may believe this is yet another wicked role, but it is really a valid portrayal of how many businesspeople will try anything to get success in America. Erin Geronimi was strong as Clara, and I also enjoyed the performances of Kim Reyes as Maria, Denisse Rodriguez as New Girl, and Jade Field as Alma.

Rounding out the cast were Vivian Cermeño as Evita and Little Sarita, Gabriel Dominguez as Mr. Levine, Michael Hill as Mr. Camden, Ariel Kostrzewski as Mrs. Holmes, Taylor Morris as La Cubana, Melodie Muñoz-Lestrade as La Chata, Flazvia Ponce as Lola, Alex Reynoso as Father Ignacio and Mr. Harris, and Priscilla Zambrano as Doña Eugenia. Henry Etchison, Maya Hallowitz, Flavia Ponce, and Alyia Yates served as stage managers.

Turning to the technical. The set, develoed by Mr. Tom Kirkpatrick and his students, was relatively simple: two rooms, a number of props… but it was sufficient to convey the locals and to be quickly turned around for their other production. Sound and lights were provided by Mr. Marque Coy and his students. The sound had problems at times, but this is a known problem with the microphones that the school has, and the actors who are not fully trained in how to use them best. Lighting was adequate for the task, although there were a few miscues. Charlie Glasser and Clarissa Tanglao were technical stage managers, with Kenji Kang and Sierra McDuffee doing sound, and Kevin Vasquez, Kacie Rodriguez, Glory Smith, and Joseph Tafur doing lighting.

If there is anything I fault the Van Nuys production team on it is publicity and program. This production is not well advertised: there should be posters in local businesses, as well as announcements at local middle schools (to attract students to the magnets). It should be clear on the school’s website, and have easily findable pages on Facebook. It should also have a stronger program: there should be advertising sold in the program so that local businesses can (a) learn about the production and (b) support the school. They have done this for the yearbook and sports programs; it should be in the drama program as well. The program should also provide additional information on the show itself—in particular, identifying the author, the rights management company, and when the show was first produced (or notable LA productions). There’s also no reason a mechanism such as eventbrite shouldn’t be available so that tickets can be purchased in advance; using Goldstar would be even better, as the production would gain advertising as well.

I strongly recommend that you go see “Latina“. The price is right—$8. There are two more performances: Thursday, November 3rd and Saturday, November 5th at 7:30pm (doors open at 7:00pm) at Van Nuys High School, Running in alternation with “Latina ” is “The Heidy Chronicles“, which has performances on Saturday October 29th and Friday November 4th, same times.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: Tonight brings “Victor Victoria” at the Malibu Stage Company on Saturday. November will start with The Robber Bridegroom” at ICT on November 5. It will also bring “Day Out With Thomas” at Orange Empire (We’re working Veterans Day, but we’re not sure about the weekend yet). Karen will also be seeing “Riverdance” at the Pantages on November 16. I’m still waiting to ticket “Bring It On” at the Ahmanson (held for November 25, pending ticketing, hottix on sale for our block on November 8). Thanksgiving weekend also brings the last show of the REP season, “The Graduate”, on Saturday November 26. Also of potential interest, if time is available, are “A Sentimental Journey: The Story of Doris Day” at the El Portal (Nov 2-20), “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant” at the Secret Rose (9/30-11/20; Theatremania has $10 tickets with code “PREGNANT”); or “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center (11/19-12/16). Not of interest is “South Street” at the Pasadena Playhouse, given the reviews. The first weekend of December is lost preparing for ACSAC, although I might squeeze in something on Saturday. The next weekend is busy, with a Mens Club Shabbat in the morning, and Travels with my Aunt” at the Colony Theatre in the evening. The remainder of December is unscheduled, but I’m sure we’ll fill things in for Winter Break. Of course, there is the de rigueur movie and Chinese food on Christmas day. As always, open dates are subject to be filled in with productions that have yet to appear on the RADAR of Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.