Regional Reviews: San Diego
Lucha (Jennifer Paredes) cares for her mother Amalia (Doreen Montalvo), who is in the throes of early-onset dementia. Her father Federico (Bobby Plasencia) plays in a mariachi ensemble, and the group works enough in bars and for weddings, funerals, and other social events to support the family. It is the 1970s, and Lucha's cousin Hortensia (Heather Velazquez) is awakening to the women's movement, encouraging Lucha's empowerment as she goes.
Lucha realizes that her mother has periods of lucidity, mostly involving older memories. She has particularly reacted to a song, and Lucha discovers that Federico wrote it as a love song to her. Lucha becomes determined to sing the song to her mother, but it's written for performance by a mariachi group. Asking her father to perform it meets with angry rejection. At Hortensia's urging, the cousins decide to form a mariachi band, even though they know that mariachi music is an all-male domain. They are helped in their efforts by Mino (Rodney Lizcano), maker of stringed instruments and an estranged friend of Federico and Amalia.
Bit by bit, the women find other women to perform in their group. It is not an easy task, as several women have obstacles to their participation. But, once the plot gets this far, it's pretty clear that the women will succeed despite it all.
San Diego-based director James Vásquez prods his cast to keep the flow of the story fluid and to build sympathy for the process of bringing the women (played by Amanda Robles, Natalie Camunas, and Crissy Guerrero) to the point where they can perform in public. A men's mariachi group (Tom Tinoco, Fernando Guadalupe Zárate Hernandez, Erick Jiminez, and Ruben Marin, along with Mr. Plasencia) functions to show the audience various forms of mariachi music and contrasts the playing of experienced professionals with the developing skill of the women. Luis Quintero plays the several men in the women's lives, and several of the women play smaller roles as well.
The busy production (Regina Garcia, scenic design; Paul Miller, lighting design; and Ken Travis, sound design) is highlighted by Meghan Anderson Doyle's colorful and varied costume design (for contrast, there is an exhibit of historic mariachi dresses in both the main and upper lobbies that is worth arriving early to view). Mariachi performer and teacher Cynthia Reifler Flores has a lot going on in her role as music director.
While the characters are familiar cultural types and don't allow for a lot of creativity in performance, San Diego favorite Jennifer Paredes makes the home crowd proud as she anchors the production as Lucha.
For those of us who may only know mariachis as "those annoying guys who come around in Mexican restaurants making you feel guilty if you don't ask them play 'Guantanamera' for you," José Cruz González' American Mariachi provides lessons not only in mariachi styles but heightens appreciation for the form played well.
American Mariachi, through April 29, 2018, on The Old Globe's Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego CA. Performance times are 7pm Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 8pm Thursday through Saturday, with 2pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available by calling (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or by visiting www.theoldglobe.org.