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LA Theater Review


Adapting Octavio Paz's provocative "El Laberinto de la Soledad" into a work for the stage is an inspired concept. Considering how relevant the Nobel laureate's enduringly powerful 1945 book of essays exploring the isolation of Mexican identity remains today, playwright Evelina Fernandez has made an admirable first pass at getting it right. Yet, an incredible bank of talent has been squandered on an unfinished, unfocused play not yet ready for an audience.

Under the brazenly stark but fascinatingly subtle directorial hand of Jose Luis Valenzuela—with brilliant choreography by Urbanie Lucero that melds 1950s jazz moves with spirited folk dancing, and featuring original music by Semyon Kobialka, who accompanies the piece on his forlornly pleading cello—the promise of what this could become is apparent. Add spectacularly simple but visually arresting Dali-esque set and lighting by François-Pierre Couture, a haunting sound plot by John Zalewski, and projections by Christopher Ash able to mutate from Western leather-tooling designs to Peter Max psychedelia, and this should be a beacon of theatrical innovation in a somewhat barren year.

The exceptional ensemble could not be more dedicated to the cause, including Fernandez as Ramona, the former sweetheart of Gabriel (Geoffrey Rivas), a successful businessman who abandoned his East L.A. roots to forge a better life. His return for his mother's funeral brings together his trophy wife (Lucy Rodriguez), his old boyhood chum (Sal Lopez), and Ramona's grown son Angel (Fidel Gomez), an accidental product of Gabriel's loins before his escape from the old neighborhood.

Fernandez has cleverly woven chapters of Paz's essays into the reunion among these characters. But as fine a notion as that is, it's also the play's downfall. While Paz's observations hit out at our society with appropriate fever and equally appropriate despair, his words become an abstemious string of annotations that rob the audience of getting to know those gathered to mourn and reconnect, keeping the actors from exploring interactions among one another. This is especially apparent in the work of the remarkably gifted Robert Beltran. As The Man, a silver-tongued limo driver who stays on to become a south-of-the-border version of the Stage Manager from "Our Town," Beltran never has the chance to become a participant, remaining hampered by his role as an observer—though indeed a lyrically poetic one.

Presented by Latino Theatre Company at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A. Sept. 9-Oct. 4. Thurs,-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (Dark Sat., Oct. 3.) (213) 489-0994, ext. 107.

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