Rain of Gold brings one Mexican family's story to the Western Stage.
Thursday, August 7, 2003
Photo: Original illustrations from mural by Jose Ortiz: Every Mother''s Son: Actors in this collage portray three generations of Victor Villasenor''s family.
Most families in the United States don''t have to flip too far back in their history to find stories of immigration, prejudice and hardship. This a nation comprised of people who came here from somewhere else looking for a better way of life.
Victor Villasenor''s epic 1991 novel, Rain of Gold, is the tale of one of those families, chronicling the travails and triumphs of three generations as the characters move from Mexico to the farmlands of Southern California. But the novel goes beyond the particulars of one family''s story. USA Today book critic Alan Ryan summed it up nicely, writing, "My grandparents came from the back streets of Copenhagen and Dublin, but Villasenor has written my family history, too. And yours."
An original theatrical adaptation of Rain of Gold, which opens Friday at 8pm at the Western Stage, is the centerpiece of this year''s Steinbeck Festival, held Thursday through Sunday in and around the National Steinbeck Center.
With a script by Michael Roddy and Maria Elizabeth Malagamba Roddy, and directed by Lorenzo Aragon, Rain of Gold is the latest of several great works of American literature that the Western Stage has adapted for the stage. According to the production''s artistic director, John Patrick Selover, Rain of Gold was chosen as this year''s project both because of its resonance with themes explored by John Steinbeck, and because of its relevance to this area.
What may set it apart from previous adaptations is the intensely personal nature of the work. Rain of Gold is based on Villasenor''s family history and the characters being portrayed on the stage are no fictional figments of an author''s imagination, but are based on the experiences of Villasenor''s own family. At the same time that this imparts much of the book''s power, it also makes tinkering with it a little dicey. To make sure the Western Stage didn''t step on any toes, artistic director John Patrick Selover says he checked with Villasenor.
"I talked to him early on," says Selover, "and asked him what was the holy stuff, the stuff we can''t touch. And he said, ''Do what you have to do, just do the best play you''ve ever done.''"
In addition to informal chats over dinner and the phone, Villasenor, who is also serving as the first Steinbeck Chair, a collaboration between Hartnell College and the National Steinbeck Center, has seen three readings and rehearsals of the work during the past year. So far, according to Selover, Villasenor has been pleased with the process.
"He was very moved by the representation of his family," says Selover. "It''s going to be interesting to see in a couple of weeks when there are three generations of his family on stage."
Almost three generations, anyway: In adapting the novel for the stage, it''s been necessary to snip, trim and condense."I joke with [Villasenor] that I keep killing off his family," says Selover. "Turning two cousins into one and like that."
Of course, in our own memories, we frequently do the same things with our own families, sometimes deliberately crossing out the people who have limited relevance to our lives, sometimes just forgetting, sometimes blurring, glorifying or defiling their memories.
Rain of Gold fits is an apt complement to the theme of this year''s Steinbeck Festival, "Collaborators and Connections," which will be expressed through workshops and lecturers exploring the various relationships Steinbeck had with his extended family--the other writers, artists and musicians with whom he worked. For a complete schedule of festival events, visit www.steinbeck.org.