Theatre Review “Solitude” at Los Angeles Theatre Center
by: Gwen Hardin
“Man is nostalgia and a search for communion.” –Octavio Paz
Thus, the premiere of Nostalgia at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, written by Evelina Fernández, shows us this themed journey inspired by Mexican poet and Nobel Laureate
Octavio Paz’s “Labyrinth of Solitude.” It opens with infectious mambo music, which sets each scene as the performers come in with choreographed movement and dance (by Urbanie Lucero). The costumes are retro-sixties (by Nikkie Delhomme) in conjunction with the mambo dancing. We are at the funeral of Carmen, the mother of Gabriel (played by Geoffrey Rivas), her only son, who mourns over her and the guilt of abandoning her and his old neighborhood friends for a better life. Death unites them again, as Gabriel faces his pain. A beautiful cello performed by Semyon Kobialka, as Chelo, presents the melancholy scene.
The Man (Robert Beltran) quotes from Octavio Paz throughout the play. He is a passionate philosopher on the art of making love and the limo driver for Gabriel, setting the humorous undertones of the play. We are introduced to Gabriel’s past, his best friend Johnny (Sal López), Gabriel’s long suffering wife, Sonia (Lucy Rodriguez), his old love, Ramona (playwright Evelina Fernández), along with her son, Angel (Fidel Gomez). Gabriel invites everyone to his palatial like home after the funeral, where his maid, Juana, is on strike so she can participate in the Million Immigrant March. Opening with a stylish neo-mod set (beautifully designed by François-Pierre Couture) of black and white, a baby grand piano, black chairs, table, and bar cart with early 19th century script graphics projected on the back wall presenting the scenes as the main backdrop. Old memories, familial bonding, painful revelations, and new dalliances unfold just as the drinking and music overflow. We discover the solitude all the character’s face and their longing to find comfort away from it. Johnny reminisces with Gabriel, their childhood adventures, trying to understand Gabriel’s leaving for college without a good-bye or hint of his whereabouts. He has accepted his lot in life, is married with six children. Johnny finds the positive in anything. Angel wonders why his mother has dragged him along to the funeral and Gabriel’s home. He feels a sense of confusion for something more in life, waiting for someone or something in life to give him an answer. Sonia reveals her loveless marriage to The Man and all that she sacrificed to help put Gabriel through law school. She realizes the solitude she created for herself. Ramona may or may not hold the answer to Angel’s search. Having married shortly after Gabriel left her and giving birth to Angel, then widowed suddenly, she gives Angel the best education and puts him through college, keeping him close to her. Gabriel, among them all feels most abandoned, a karmic return for his shame of his poverty and his mother, waiting for the father that left them. Called a crybaby by his friends, he looks for empathy but receives none. They all intermingle, each telling stories as The Man and his nephew Chelo, move about. He reminds them with the help of Octavio Paz quotes, that making love or the lack of may be the solution, even giving Angel lessons on the art of making love.
Fluidly directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela, he transition’s Paz’s “Labyrinth of Solitude” to modern day crises in Los Angeles. Death brings them all together to face the identity of their hearts and souls. Gabriel represents the evolution of the new successful Mexican-American in self-denial and his friends, the stereotyped version of Mexican culture. Rivas’s Gabriel is deftly played with somber reality as a contrast to López’s humorous, brilliant and natural performance of Johnny. He shines with his Ranchero aria in a drunken state to Gabriel. Fernández as Ramona, delightfully performs with humor and strength as a survivor of relationships and other outer worldly events. She masks any pain with the love she has for her son. Any other actress would have treated Ramona as a loose cannon, but Fernández shows subtle layers of a woman who is more than what she seems to be. As the outsider of this group, Lucy Rodriguez’s Sonia holds her own, looking every bit a wife ignored and out of options, she turns in a wonderfully characterized stiff, upper class, conventional wife. Gomez as Angel, seems to have had a shaky start with his character, but eventually finds his way to Angel’s forlorn soul. Tying them all in is Beltran’s The Man, simplifying the complex with dead pan authority, he delivers as the bookends to this story. Being “just the limo driver”, he metaphorically helps these lost souls on their moment of journey from solitude. Moving along with quiet understatement, Kobialka’s melodic cello plays, weaving his music, adding volumes to what hangs unsaid in the air.
“Solitude” masks itself through its conceptual style, yet all the while you face yourself and your fears of separation, longing and death. Evelina Fernandez has written a play that is generous to her characters and breathes like wine to its audience. Somewhere along the way with these characters you find hope in the end and the sound of mambo music lingering in your mind even after leaving the theater.