An LA Journey
By Mende Smith
Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing one of L.A’s newest playwright collaborators, Lorenzo Alfredo, premiere An L.A. Journey, a triumphant story of personal suffering and courage tinged with bittersweet sorrow told through the eyes of Lorenzo Alfredo as a child. Most beloved coming of age stories, are not like this one. An L.A Journey is homegrown—and it feels that way. A cast of 16 actors portrays multiple roles in the play. As the audience takes in the faces of the common working class in modern South American towns ranging from Guatemala to Mexico we follow eleven-year-old Lorenzo, played by Olin Tonatiuh (of Boyle Heights) as he finds his way from the K’iche village of Xojola, Guatemala upon losing his only caregivers. For the first few scenes of this production, we come to feel for the boy as he begs for food on a busy street—now a homeless youth working odd jobs on the brink of starvation. This youngster steals the show as he finds a new home in Guatemala City with his would-be savior, Olivia, played by Blanca Melchor (of South Pasadena) who discovers she can use the boy to gain the courage to leave her unfulfilled life behind her and travel to America to chase another man whom she calls “her boyfriend” in New York City. This multimedia production is carried off beautifully at the CASA 0101 Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. At first glance, this performance space looks more like an elementary school gym than an art house, but walking in you are transformed to the many stages of a homeless child’s memoirs.
The minimalist set, designed by set designer Cesar Holguin (of Los Angeles) consisted of painted wooden crates positioned and stacked on the stage in simple configurations in the foreground of slide-projected streets, desert roads, interior houses of various sizes, and the occasional constellation view of the cosmos. The warmth of this production is embodied in the cast themselves. The honest depictions of the lives unfold in simple dialogue by plain-faced rugged people. Most scenes are scattered with few props; from indigenous bright clothing and handfuls of flowers, baskets of oranges and dusty backpacks used throughout the performance—and it works.
Inside the T.V screen-like set, a wonderful ensemble of actors builds. Where the play begins, we follow Lorenzo’s harrowing journey of twists and turns and we feel for him the way we might feel for any lonely child. From our seats in the audience, we want to hold out our arms and fill his life with the joy and security every child deserves, but we must watch as he is disenfranchised before our eyes and mistreated by the adults who he depends upon for hundreds of miles on his journey to freedom. This play brings laughter, and tears. Because of this child’s story, we can lose ourselves in the true stories of thousands like Lorenzo, and find ourselves wondering if we will ever view immigration the same again? Each actor is worth noting, but standouts include Aurelio Medina as Spicy and Kathy Pedraza as Rosa. The simplest words of each are impeccable, and their onstage chops are undeniable.
Emmanuel Deleage (Co-Writer/Director) has put together an amazing show with smooth scene changes, a clear focus, and a cohesiveness that is both impressive and unmatched. No actor pulls focus when they shouldn’t, and even the smallest of children is of the utmost importance.
In addition, the lighting design of Maura McGuinness and the costume design of Abel Alvarado enhance the show in their simplicity. I can only describe the lighting as magical, with the beams of impeccably placed spotlights and projection playing their own distinct parts in the show. The costumes are unique to every culturally diverse group of characters we see in modern Los Angeles—merchants, families, and travelers—and everything complements each other.
This production features native music of South American Cultures and songs in English, Spanish, and also K’iche. The real life boy in this story, now-grown Lorenzo Alfredo takes the stage for two spoken word/singing performances adding to the story’s crescendo of devotional merits. Alfredo’s quavering vocals and sudden gestures of affection coupled with the karaoke-esque tracking offer an emphatic reprise to the true-life adventure of hope and sacrifice and foretell the positivity of this story with elegance and optimism of the tribulations of both crossing cultural borders and the ethical realities of coming to America.
I encourage you to go see this production. At this time of year, hundreds of theatres are putting on shows to capture your imagination, but I guarantee you won’t find one quite like An L.A Journey. If you want to escape from your everyday grind into a the reality of a migrant child’s dreams, hopes, and fears— then come out and support these fine players!
An L.A Journey runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 5 pm through June 7, 2015 at CASA 0101 Theater, located at 2102 EAST 1st STREET, BOYLE HEIGHTS, CA 90033. For tickets call (323) 263-7684 or buy online at www.casa0101.org. The running time of the play is 123 minutes.