This was my first visit to the Los Angeles Theatre Center. What a beautiful, wonderful, cultural venue. More banks should be converted into theatre spaces like this one. Their lobby has such a presence, from the lighting to the high ceiling to even the seating; there is something almost royal about it. I love that lobby. It would be a great place to have a theatre gala and by the looks of it, it probably has been in the past. The theatre itself, I also loved for its completely different look. The multi-colored red and orange seating gives it a bit of a seventies vibe, totally cool, and also worked perfectly with this particular production! This might be one of my favorite converted theatre spaces in LA now; it is so beautiful and full of so much character on so many levels!
On this particular Sunday, just a week out from the show's closing, my friend Serena, development manager of Anteaus Theatre Company and hard core theatre nerd, joined me for a performance of The Sweetheart Deal, written and directed by American theatre artist and one of Center Theatre Group's associate artistic directors, Diane Rodriguez. As we chose our seats inside the house, Serena asked me if the second row would be alright. They looked comfy, and the set was pretty creative, so I didn't mind being close up to get an even better look. "Sure, why not," I replied, "As long as there's no audience participation." The next thing we knew, the actors paraded onto the stage from the aisles, interacting with the audience, energetically instructing us how to participate in a call and response over the course of the show. Serena even knew one of the actors from the show and he was like, "Hey, how are you?" Definitely out of my comfort zone, but I pushed through that and it actually ended up not being as big of a part of the show as they made it out to be in the beginning.
It's 1970. Mari (Ruth Livier) and Will (Geoffrey Rivas) leave their comfortable life in San Jose to volunteer for El Malcriado, a underground newspaper originated by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta at the pinnacle of the United Farm Workers revolution. Through this transition, Mari is majorly taken out of her comfort zone, from having to share housing with other volunteers, work though tasks she has little to no interest in and most of all, confront her brother Mac (David DeSantos) who might not be on the team she hoped for after all. But as weeks turn into months and impact turns into progress, they begin to understand why they're fighting, why it's working and the many lives that have potential to change for the better.
Although the show was definitely NOT my choice genre of theatre, as we threw back some happy hour margaritas a few blocks away at Mezcalero, Serena made some excellent points on why this genre was the perfect one in which to tell this story, at this point in history. First of all, we were both pretty embarrassed to admit that we knew almost next to nothing about this movement in American history. The historical content was a bit confusing for us both, for probably about the first fifteen minutes of the play, but soon we caught on. Serena noted that considering that we are probably not the only ones uneducated on this topic, that the more interactive, comedia inspired storytelling was really a choice method in bringing home the themes, ideas and history. The style itself is very reminiscent of Culture Clash, in a good way. It allows people to participate in the story, delivering it to them in a more direct, potentially meaningful way. Mind you, this style is also blended between scenes more traditionally staged, so I'd go as far to say that despite my initial fears, over half the play is grounded in realism. "Now that I've been introduced to this story, it makes me want to learn more and research this movement," she said. I agreed, then took another sip of margarita. We also agreed that we liked that the play followed the more personal story of the couple, versus attempting to showcase the history of the entire movement. "I really liked this show," she said.
I think that this play should make me want to me more politically active, on a volunteer or community level, that every size of help counts and that even the greatest leaders started small. If that is the message, I'm falling short a little bit. I'm still processing why that is. The comedy is great in getting the behind the scenes goings on and terms explained. However, I hear about farmers and their families struggling under terrible conditions, but I never get to see it. Maybe I'm being lazy. Maybe I need to believe without seeing. But also...show don't tell? On a separate note, it was very difficult for me to relate to Mari and to be honest, I was surprised by her role as the play progressed. At the end of the play, not long after one of the more major plot devices takes place, I found myself applauding, wondering to myself, "Wait...is she supposed to be the protagonist?" It is true that she did transform as the play progressed, I just didn't see the changes being exactly dynamic until her final speech, in which I reasoned that maybe she was supposed to mean something more than I was assigning her to be. It could be me. I think I do a pretty good job of trying to relate to all characters from a neutral place in theatre, however, I could see how since the charcters in the play are a bit older than me, with more life experience and trials, in a different era, that I could have missed the mark with some things. I'm wondering if a couple of a similar age to Will & Mari might relate to them on a deeper level and therefore connect to this story as a whole in a more spiritual way. I also was surprised that the play ended when it did. I think I was craving more of a resolve to the movement, however Serena reminded me that it was more about the couple's journey than a documentation of the actual movement. The ending did certainly make me want to investigate what would happen moving forward in the movement. I don't think I liked this show as much as Serena, although I can't wait to go back to this venue again soon.
The Sweetheart Deal runs at the beautiful Los Angeles Theatre Center through June 4. Swing by very soon for a performance of this important play about a movement that certainly needs more historical recognition.