Gold Is Good Enough
Despite too-fast pacing and overlong script, Western Stage's adaptation works.
Thursday, August 14, 2003
The first thing that needs to be said about the Western Stage''s adaptation of Victor Villaseñor''s autobiographical novel, Rain of Gold, is that it''s a show worth seeing. The second thing to say is that it''s long.
Including the nearly half-hour intermission, last Saturday''s production ran nearly four hours. And it isn''t because of the pacing. In fact, the show is presented at such a brisk pace that it sometimes seemed like the emphasis was on delivering lines rather than on developing characters. This seemed particularly true during the first act, precisely the time when an audience needs to settle in.
Nor does the length of the play result from too much historical or social background. In fact, unless someone''s read the novel or has a good grasp of turn-of-the-century Mexico/US history, it may be difficult to figure out the external forces that shape the lives of the Gómez and Villaseñor families. Press packets for the production included an eight-page history of the Mexican Revolution. This is an advantage most audience members do not have.
The real problem, it would seem, is that the script (adapted by Michael Roddy and Maria Elizabeth Malagamba Roddy) tries to cram the experiences of too many characters into too short a time. The Western Stage has a splendid history for adapting works to the stage, most notably its epic version of East of Eden, which was presented in three two-hour pieces.
At its core, Rain of Gold tells how author Victor Villaseñor''s parents, Lupe Gómez and Juan Villaseñor, fled Mexico with their families during the revolution and came to the United States-only to endure more hardship. Controlling both families are Villaseñor''s grandmothers, Guadalupe Gómez (Yolanda Cotteral) and Margarita Villaseñor (Rosa Mariá Escalante). In this production, these matriarchs are remarkably similar: tough talking, wisecracking, sometimes tippling and always loving.
Whether it''s the more tender moments-such as a scene where Guadalupe speaks with daughter Lupe of the need for every woman to have a "crying tree," or Margarita growling to son Juan, "I''m going to be the tick up your spiritual ass for the rest of your life," both actresses deliver performances that are convincingly tough yet loving.
As Juan Villaseñor, Gilbert A. Chavarria has some nice moments. As the second act grinds on, there is an increased focus on Juan''s activities as a bootlegger, and Chavarria does a nice job layering the relationships has with his business associates Archie (Jaime Avelar Guzman) and Kenny (Cleveland Lee Smith). But here, too, the characters are hampered by the script. At one point, everything in Juan''s business goes to hell. Given almost no time for a dramatic build, the character is cast alone into a spotlight groaning and crying. The scene rang untrue, but little of the blame goes to Chavarria.
The Young Lupe Gómez is given a likable performance by Emily Molinar, and Erika Yanin Perez ably portrays the more mature Lupe.
As previously noted, Lorenzo Aragon''s direction is forced into being too briskly paced, but he uses the stage and his 40-some actors and musicians to keep the show visually appealing at all times. He is helped in this by Peter Maslan''s scenic design and Jennifer Brawn Gittings'' colorful costumes.
Hopefully, this is a work still in progress. There''s a lot of meat in the story and heart in the telling of it. For those reasons alone, it''s worth the price of the ticket.
Rain of Gold continues at the Western Stage until 8/24.