at the Autry National Center
n interdisciplinary smorgasbord of music, dance, film, and theatre, with a highly politicized and personal historical reference point. A pair of producers responsible for more than 35 (or 356, depending on which materials you read) theatrical and educational works over the last 20 years. A beautiful new state-of-the-art theatre surrounded by the lush metropolitan oasis of Griffith Park. All the ingredients are there for a sublime theatrical experience, and yet all fails to coalesce.
Given the pedigree of the performers involved, the result is surprisingly slipshod. This could be due to one of the two dancers being absent at the performance reviewed. Or because three of five band members were substituted, including the lead singer and Muse character. We could even blame "opening weekend." It seems more likely that Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo, as co-writer–director-producer and co-writer–lead actress, respectively, simply have too much on their plates with this ambitious project based on their, and California's, shared histories.
With Portillo in three roles, it seems at times that this production would fare better as her one-woman show. It is strangely reductive to have all six main roles shared by two actors, especially with a full band playing (wonderfully, despite the substitutions). Michael Manuel seems overextended in the male roles, though he has a nice final moment as his main character, Raoul. The dance troupe is central to this important story, about the dilution and misrepresentation of Spanish and Mexican culture in early Hollywood. Michele Bachar is the sole representative of this troupe, and although she is entertaining, her Anglican presence seems an ironic obfuscation of this theme.
The show further negates its own scathing point when the most enjoyable character (Portillo's Rosita) in essence takes the blame for the misappropriation of her culture. Much of the show is thusly off-key, from the overwrought language and awkward video footage (by Jude and Isaac Artenstein) to the lovely—but completely unrelated—original music. It seems hypocritical to lament the modernization of classic works only to create your own updated standards. Though this sort of collaboration between artists is commendable, one can't help but wish they hadn't tried to do so much.
Presented by About Productions at the Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A. Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Sep. 9-Oct. 1. (323) 667-2000, ext. 353. www.autrynationalcenter.org.
Reviewed by Andi James