Los Angeles Theater Preview: 57 CHEVY (Highways)

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by Frank Arthur on March 15, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles


There’s palpable excitement surrounding the upcoming West Los Angeles engagement of Cris Franco’s autobiographical comedy, 57 Chevy. “We’re remounting the show because of the Trump administration’s full throttle attack on our families. It’s time to fight back!” says the play’s award-winning author. The true zany misadventures of an immigrant Mexican family’s acculturation into the American middle-class during the 1960’s debuted at the Los Angeles Theater Center in late 2015. Christened the Latino Wonder Years, it opened to glowing notices across the board: playwright Franco for his “unsentimental” and “hilarious” narrative, and star, Ric Salinas (of Culture Clash) for his “magnetic” portrayal of 28 characters in the 80-minute, solo, memory play.

And although it premiered only a little over two years ago, to Franco it feels like a lifetime. “When the show first opened in LATC, ‘The Donald” was ‘The Joke” candidate. No way anyone as bigoted and divisive as him would ever be sworn into the highest office in the land of the free. But throughout 2016 and 2017, as we started onto very successful tours to northern California, Colorado and Texas – things shifted. And as we tearfully watched Trump win and begin his condemnation of the foreign-born, we saw our show take on a new significance.”

A fan of post-show talk-backs, both during and following the election, Franco would nightly solicit the enthusiastic attendees’ feedback: “Our racially diverse audiences, who’d all just laughed together for over an hour kept repeating the same message; they wished the nation could experience our intimate true story about the fun and challenges of being an immigrant familia as told through the eyes of a nine-year-old Mexican-American boy with a hyper-creative imagination — a young mind that’s free to hope and dream because he’s not concerned about his parents getting deported or one of his siblings losing their DACA status.”

Franco said that though the work was written with no agenda, in this climate, his valentine to his immigrant parents takes on new meaning. “We’ll negate Trump’s hateful assumptions that immigrants are not a unifying part of the American tapestry by taking the audience on a more realistic universal journey with them. While Trump is building walls, our play’s positive message is figuratively destroying the literal wall he envisions.”

Franco’s excited about bringing the show to the adventurous and influential Highways Performing Arts Center in Santa Monica. “I think many Westsiders will totally relate to the comedy behind the cultural changes our Old World Mexican familia experienced when we “moved on up” once my hard-working dad’s mechanic’s shop began bringing in mucho dinero. Plus I think they’ll get the serious message beyond its wholesome exterior.”

Many of the show’s fans got the message years ago. “It’s the antidote to the anti-immigrant sentiment” says veteran TV writer and showrunner, Luisa Leschin. Perhaps that’s why 57 Chevy has become something of a small, but building, cultural phenomenon in L.A’s theater scene. It’s a petite show with a big revelation: what defines an American isn’t your birthplace, it’s your desire to self-actualize. And in a time when most ethnic theater addresses the darker themes of drugs, violence, delinquents, refugees, racial inequities and historic injustices, 57 Chevy dares to be optimistic.

The play’s star, Ric Salinas, takes the show’s relevance even further, saying, “As it details the evolution of a typical immigrant family, the personal becomes political and we arrive at many powerful truths about the American spirit.  I’ve been performing political plays for 30-plus years, strangely enough, and as light and entertaining as 57 Chevy appears on the exterior, it may be my most political work so far.”

Covertly political? Yes. Fun? Absolutely! Because the action is told from the perspective of a hyper-creative, nine-year-old Mexican-American boy, the play sparkles with a youthful ebullience and innocence rarely seen on the contemporary stage. As Franco explains: “I hope families will come see 57 Chevy together, so they can laugh a lot and enjoy a more humane era when the American Dream was still readily available to those industrious, intrepid newcomers like my father.”

And as ever a comic, Franco loves that the run at Highways is only two nights, because that way “we have two galas:  an opening night one, followed immediately by a closing night one!”

photos by Xavi Moreno

57 Chevy
Highways Performance Space @ 18th Street Arts Center
1651 18th Street (1/2 block north of Olympic Blvd.) in Santa Monica
plays Friday & Saturday, April 6 & 7, 2018 at 8:30
for tickets ($20-$25), call call 310.315.1459 or visit Highways

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