Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

El Corrido de Jorge

National Hispanic Cultural Center
Review by Wally Gordon

Also see Stephanie's review of Wait Until Dark

Daniel Cruz and E. Danielle Belvin
Photo Courtesy of National Hispanic Cultural Center
Having written a couple of unsuccessful plays myself, I know well just how difficult the genre is. Creating characters with real depth and a plot that is convincing while entertaining a live audience sitting only feet from the stage, and doing it all in a way that works for actors to interpret and directors to stage—it is all a forbidding task, perhaps the most difficult of all literary and entertainment feats. It is also a noble effort, and falling short of perfection while reaching for such nobility should be neither shameful nor embarrassing.

This is by way of introduction to the current offering at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, El Corrido de Jorge, written by Patricia Crespin. She is a native of northern New Mexico who teaches at New Mexico Highlands University and Luna Community College, both in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Her play is a difficult one to stage. Its two acts and dozens of scenes take place over a number of years in two countries, and include guitar music and songs. Although predominantly in English, there is enough Spanish to require the actors to have a decent Spanish accent.

Each of the many, often brief scenes requires rearranging the set and props. The slow changes on a blacked-out stage are sometimes longer than the scenes themselves. The problem posed by such interruptions is that they break the flow of the action and impede narrative tension and momentum.

Another problem with the play is its structure, alternating between flashbacks six years earlier in the Untied States and the current time in Mexico. In fact, the play is well under way before it is evident that we are watching scenes taking place at different times in different countries with different sets of actors.

These are issues I hope Crespin deals with in a future draft, for the play has much meat and inherent merit. It suggests profound concerns of ethnicity and family and morality. Although there are major differences, in some ways the plot echoes the ancient Greek dramatization of the prophecy that Oedipus will marry his mother and kill his father. I don't know if the echo is intentional, but for me at least, it added another layer to a fascinating story.

Perhaps Crespin and director Magdalene Gallegos would in the future consider two fairly superficial changes that would help bring out the strong inherent qualities in the play: reducing the number of scenes and the amount of stage management between them; and instead of alternating flashbacks, simplify the action by having the entire first act take place in the past in New Mexico and the entire second act in current time in Mexico.

I don't want to give away the surprise dramatic ending, but the story focuses on Jorge (Daniel Cruz), a dutiful young man, and his family living on an impoverished farm in New Mexico. During flashback scenes, he is a teenager mistreated by his mean and often absent father (Dean Stone). He cares for his ailing, malnourished mother and raises his two younger siblings. Meanwhile, he nourishes an ambition to be a musician and songwriter and is in love with a naive young Hispanic girl (E. Danielle Belvin.)

During the later scenes, the mother has died and the father has disappeared somewhere in Mexico. The boy is now a man in his 20s who has become a drunk, moving to Mexico, hanging out in a Mexican bar, and taking up with an aggressive Mexican girlfriend.

His move to Mexico has a motive that has become an obsession: He wants to find and kill his father, whom he blames for his mother's death.

The six-person cast is a mixed bag. While it is not necessary to know Spanish to follow the play (of course, it helps), all the members of the cast handle the Spanish phrases fluently. Several of the supporting actors—notably, Don Garcia as the bartender Cantinero but also Ama Zathura as Ricarda and Frida Mercury as Mireia—deliver fluid and convincing performances.

However, it seems to me that Cruz as Jorge, the eponymous protagonist, is miscast. His character is that of a singer, guitar player, and chain smoker. But on stage he continually holds both an unlit cigarette and an unplayed guitar. The artificiality of this setup works to undermine the credibility of his character, which is crucial to the drama.

The Mexican music, which is deeply integrated with the theme, is recorded instead of performed live. The "corrido" of the title is translated as "song" in advertisement for the play, but it is really more than that. A bilingual dictionary defines the term as referring to "a popular narrative song and poetry that form a ballad. The songs are often about oppression, history, daily life for peasants, and other socially relevant topics."

Despite the play's problems, it makes for enjoyable and thought-producing theater, especially for a New Mexico audience. (The theater warns that the drama "contains mature content and language and may not be suitable for all audiences.")

El Corrido de Jorge continues Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through Feb. 11, 2018, in the Wells Fargo Theater at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, 1701 4th St. SW in Albuquerque NM. For reservations or more information call 505-724-4771 or go to