Solitude

A theatrically ambitious but thematically awkward perusal of a day in the life of a Latino man.

With:
The Man - Robert Beltran Gabriel - Geoffrey Rivas Sonia - Lucy Rodriguez Johnny - Sal Lopez Ramona - Evelina Fernandez Angel - Fidel Gomez Chelo - Semyon Kobialka Ensemble - J. Ed Araiza

Scripter Evelina Fernandez, inspired by Mexican Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz’s landmark essay “The Labyrinth of Solitude,” has crafted a theatrically ambitious but thematically awkward perusal of one cathartic day in the life of a successful but guilt-plagued Latino man. Helmer Jose Luis Valenzuela is in tune with Fernandez’s agenda but overburdens the dramatic throughline with a plethora of visual and aural stimuli that too often detract from the character interactions.

Set in present day Los Angeles, “Solitude” focuses on upwardly mobile corporate lawyer Gabriel (Geoffrey Rivas), who has returned to the working-class Chicano neighborhood of his youth to attend the funeral of his mother. Fernandez completely envelops Gabriel within tangible reminders of the family and friends he deserted more than two decades earlier in his desire for material success. What’s lacking is a compelling explanation of why it has taken the middle-aged Gabriel so long to journey the few miles from his Westside penthouse to the place of his birth.

Underscoring and augmenting Gabriel’s crises of conscious are childhood pals Ramona (Evelina Fernandez) and Johnny (Sal Lopez), and an omnipresent Greek chorus of two, consisting of the Paz-quoting orations of the Man (an engagingly over-the-top perf by TV star Robert Beltran) and the indefatigable instrumental offerings of Chelo (the brilliant onstage cellist Semyon Kobialka). Serving as uneasy witnesses to this surrealistic reunion are Gabriel’s upscale, monumentally unhappy wife, Sonia (Lucy Rodriguez), and Ramona’s well-educated but disaffected adult son, Angel (Fidel Gomez).

Rivas instills impressive veracity into Gabriel’s ongoing angst, but there is little sense of emotional evolution as he attempts to bridge the decades of isolation from his roots. What does work is the childlike, almost giddy interplay of Gabriel, Ramona and Johnny as they recall the joys and foibles of their youth. Fernandez and Lopez are convincing as the underachieving stay-at-homes who exude an aura of contentment with their lot in life.

The second act evolves into a profusion of alcohol-driven revelations at Gabriel’s Westside digs, manifesting Paz’s declaration (voiced by Beltran), “Americans drink to forget. Mexicans drink to confess.” Despite some much-needed comical elements, especially from Lopez’s Johnny, this legiter’s final scenes are overwhelmed by the playwright’s need to drive home her message of the disenfranchisement of the modern Chicano, who is both Mexican and American but not fully either.

Adding color but not much clarification to the proceedings is the between-scene music and dance (choreographed by Urbanie Lucero) that infuses recorded 1950s retro mambos of Perez Prado with the live, seamlessly insinuating cello virtuosity of Kobialka, whose omnipresent onstage performance is often more memorable than the dialogue.

Kudos also to the skewed, slightly off-kilter penthouse setting of Francois-Pierre Couture, complemented by his own lighting and the rear wall projections of Christopher Ash.

Solitude

L.A. Theater Center 3; 320 seats; $35 top

Production: A Latino Theater Company presentation of a play in two acts by Evelina Fernandez. Directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela.

Crew: Sets and lighting, Francois-Pierre Couture; costumes, Nikki Delhomme; sound, John Zalewski; projections, Christopher Ash; music, Semyon Kobialka; choreography, Urbanie Lucero; stage manager, Henry Fernandez. Opened, Sept. 9, 2009. Reviewed, Sept. 10. Closes Oct. 4. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Cast: The Man - Robert Beltran Gabriel - Geoffrey Rivas Sonia - Lucy Rodriguez Johnny - Sal Lopez Ramona - Evelina Fernandez Angel - Fidel Gomez Chelo - Semyon Kobialka Ensemble - J. Ed Araiza

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