A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY
Faith by Evelina Fernandez, directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela, is a sensitive portrayal of a Mexican-American family in the 1940’s. Good performances and a smart use of music ultimately succeed in transforming a spotty episodic tale into a meaningful drama.
Two melodramatic vignettes in Mexico seem to serve as a prequel, planting seeds of familial responsibility and conflict, yet both are shrouded in such mystery that they do more to bewilder than engage: Young Esperanza (Olivia Delgado) makes an impassioned confession to an attractive young priest (Matias Ponce), and we learn there is a war going on—yet just as things are getting interesting, the scene ends; suddenly we are transported to the 1940’s living room of Silvestre and Esperanza Morales, where the main action of the play occurs. This abrupt transition leaves one with plenty of questions: Was what came before a flashback? Was the conflict Young Esperanza alluded to the Mexican Revolution, or WWII? Is the charming Ms. Delgado, now onstage in virtually the same costume but with significantly younger mannerisms, a new character, and if so, how old is she? The pre-beats either need to be developed more, or done without.
Once the central conflict is introduced—matriarch Esperanza’s oppressive over-protectiveness versus the Morales sisters’ blossoming adolescence—things kick into gear. Though the story is frequently general, the songs that are interwoven enrich a traditional plot and give the production meaning. Not only do “Las Hermanas Morales” (Esperanza America, Alexis de la Rocha, and Ms. Delgado) sing and dance beautifully together as they rehearse their dream of becoming a Mexican version of the Andrews’ Sisters, but the men of the play also pour out their hearts in song when their emotions grow too huge to be contained by mere words or actions. Under the deft direction of Jose Luis Valenzuela, these musical numbers play naturally, offering depth and beauty.
Across the board the performances are grounded and affecting. As Faith, Ms. America journeys from girl to independent woman with remarkable subtlety and confidence. Playwright Evelina Fernandez sparkles as Lupe, the funny, problem-plagued neighbor who manages to maintain a sense of fun in spite of life’s troubles. Lucy Rodriguez convinces as the overbearing Esperanza, a tower of will whose resolve hardens in desperation over the course of the play, and Sal Lopez brings strength and emotion as Silvestre, her husband. Geoffrey Rivas is dead-on as a radio announcer named Ricardo Flores.
The action of this play spans several years and attempts to develop a series of story lines, which gets messy. Certain details that would have been helpful to know—how old the girls were at the start, how much time had passed between scenes, why certain personality shifts or major events had taken place offstage—were left to the imagination. In spite of these shortcomings, Faith does have a heart, which counts for something.
photos by Pablo Santiago
Latino Theater Company at the Los Angeles Theatre Center
scheduled to end on November 11, 2012
for tickets, call (866) 811-4111 or visit http://www.thelatc.org