Everyone's so nice in ...and now Miguel that there's little dramatic tension.
Thursday, October 7, 1999
Jim Hughes' and Will Graveman's ... and now Miguel, currently playing at The Western Stage, is the story of a young boy, Miguel Chavez (Spencer Genesy), from a close-knit family of sheepherders. Miguel's fondest desire is to be allowed to accompany the men in his family to the summer grazing pastures in the mountains. In his imagination, Miguel is surrounded by inhabitants of the heavens--San Ysidro and two guardian angels who intercede on behalf of his prayers--and by ghosts of Conquistadores past, who encourage him toward his goal (although one might question whether a Mexican shepherd would welcome Spanish conquerors into his daydreams).
The Western Stage is to be commended for producing new scripts, exploring other cultures, and including child and adult community actors in its productions. I applaud the enthusiasm apparent in the performance opening night.
While it is always difficult to work with relatively untried material, it is especially difficult to work with material so poorly conceived as ... and now Miguel. And ultimately, it is the script that undoes this production. Poorly constructed and badly written, there is little or no tension in Miguel's life aside from his unrequited longing to head for the hills. His mother is nice, his father is strict but nice, his big brother is nice, and even his younger siblings are less than devious. It makes for a happy family life, but it doesn't make for very interesting theater. Basically, Miguel has to wait his turn--not much suspense there. Much of the dialogue is trite, not particularly culturally specific, and, quite frankly, could be inserted into an episode of "Father Knows Best" with little revision. Same goes for the song lyrics.
The production values at The Western Stage are always high and this play is no exception. The sets, designed by Jose Ortiz, were stunning and reminiscent of the bold lines and vibrant colors of Diego Rivera. They were further enhanced by the subtle and rich lighting scheme by Derek Duarte--the mountain backdrop was especially well-lit for depth and beauty. Add to this the beautiful costumes by Chrisopher Acebo, and the result is a visual feast. Also, director Lorenzo Aragon moves his actors around the stage with economy and grace contributing further to the lovely stage pictures.
There were a few performances that rose above the script. Papa and Mama Chavez (Craig Benson and Donna Frederico) were funny and sweet together, Grandpa Chavez (Jaime Avelar Guzman) was subtle and believable, and Miguel Gongora as Johnny the sheepshearer threw himself into the role with abandon and delighted us. Spencer Genesy was passionate as Miguel.