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Of the Deaths and Resurrections of Lazarus, the Lazarillo

"Lazarillo," by Aristides Vargas, wins points for originality, social consciousness and for daring portrayals from the versatile three-member cast. Its weakness is too much vaudevillian clowning and comedy, which minimize the sting from a powerful story about a beggar who survives starvation, brutality and exploitation.

With:
With: Charo Frances, Gerson Guerra, Aristides Vargas.

“Lazarillo,” by Aristides Vargas, wins points for originality, social consciousness and for daring portrayals from the versatile three-member cast. Its weakness is too much vaudevillian clowning and comedy, which minimize the sting from a powerful story about a beggar who survives starvation, brutality and exploitation.

The show is inspired by anonymously authored 16th-century novel “The Life of Lazarillo of Tormes” and the biblical tale of Lazarus. It centers on Lazaro (played at various times by Vargas, Gerson Guerra and Charo Frances), an illegitimate 9-year-old cast out by his heartbro-ken but self-pitying mother and forced into a life of degradation with con artists.

The first is blind Uncle Enrique (Aristides), who delivers the play’s most illuminating speech, defining the various kinds of beggars: ecclesiastical beggars, who operate at churches; travel beggars, who work at exchange houses and banks; and literary beggars, who work the main streets.

In the course of the story, Lazaro encounters difficult, ghoulish mentors: Sister Miguel (Frances), who is “Protestant by conviction and Catholic when it suited her”; Luchino, a pseudo-Italian who finds a positive in Lazaro’s hammering hunger (“It keeps you thin, and image is all-important”); and Mr. Amilcar, a capitalist on Saturday and communist the rest of the week, a man who struggled to live by principles and found that old politicians had been cut out and new ones understand only money.

Vargas’ lines are perceptive, but this episodic, disjointed vehicle isn’t a play in the accepted sense. The actors change roles constantly; their flexibility, flair for improvisation and ability to blend seamlessly as a troupe is admirable. But the audience has no emotional investment in their behavior.

Musical interludes on guitar, maracas and accordion act as scoring aids to the vignettes, adding much-needed continuity, and Jose Lino Suntaxi’s lighting helps maintain focus.

Vargas’ lack of structure is frequently disguised by his action-packed direction. He draws a sparkling, animated portrayal from Guerra, a master of facial and body movement with mobil-ity that suggests Jim Carrey; his Luchino is a standout, bouncing buoyantly on a huge trampo-line.

Of the Deaths and Resurrections of Lazarus, the Lazarillo

Inside the Ford; 87 seats; $15 top

Production: The Ford Theater Foundation and FITLA Intl. Latino Theater Festival of Los Angeles presentation of a play in one act written and directed by Aristides Vargas.

Crew: Lighting, Jose Lino Suntaxi; costumes, Jose Rosales. Opened and reviewed Oct. 28, 2004; closed Oct. 31. Running time: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN.

Cast: With: Charo Frances, Gerson Guerra, Aristides Vargas.

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