Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Three Louies. Comic con in NELA.

The Three Louies in Grand Performance

Michael Sedano

Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles is a grand venue but that’s not where audiences enjoyed The Three Louies in a rare appearance, sponsored by Grand Performances.

California Plaza, down the street from Disney Hall and the Music Center, is an oasis of water and granite linking the glass towers of Bunker Hill’s Wells Fargo Plaza. Here, at the southern slope of Bunker Hill, Grand Performances hosts its free series. I’d visited, in past years, to enjoy a collection of Robert Graham sculptures exhibited in the tropical atrium of a skyscraper. But I’d never thought of the area as a destination.

For The Three Louies performance, parking worked out to be free. Although Grand Performances worked a deal to reduce the $30.00 parking fee to $8.00, when I fed my validated ticket into the automated cashier machine, it waived any fee.

The Three Louies come from a variety of literary arts. Luis Torres is familiar to millions of radio listeners who remember hearing Torres’ familiar baritone voice signing off, “This is Luis Torres, KNX News.” Luis J. Rodríguez writes poetry, short fiction, and novels, runs for governor of California, is the sitting 'Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, and operates Tía Chucha Press and cultural center in Pacoima. Louie Pérez is familiar the world over as a lyricist and founding musician of Los Lobos.

None of them is a spring chicken any more. They are elders, veteranos. Rucos, Torres emphasized. Each has been around a lot. And seen stuff, and done stuff. Louie has lived sixty-some years with a raconteur’s eye for detail, a writer’s discipline an artist’s determination. And each has a mouth.

People want to hear what these vatos say and think, about things that matter, or just to watch them pull some pendejadas out of their hats. Whichever comes first.

The stage protrudes into a reflection pond where two planter islands form a "back wall." In the audience, people claim all the space they need on the wide concrete terraces that make up a 300-seat amphitheater. The plaza spreads beyond the glistening surface where a larger amphitheater stands unused, an empty expanse of curving granite benches. Pedestrians course through the complex beyond. California Plaza is a fabulous site, full of promise for big events.

The night’s Grand Performance comes as part of a series called Evolución L.A.tino. The series,  according to publicity, explores Latino and Chicano culture, power, influence and experiences from a local and global perspective through music, theater, film, culinary arts, and expert panel/lectures. Supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and Sony Pictures Entertainment, the programming reflects solid leadership from the organization’s Executive Director, Michael Alexander, who emceed the evening.

Michael Alexander, Grand Performances Executive Director
Staged for the conversation, the production values are high with effective mic’ing and crisp loudspeakers, beautifully lighted simplicity against the minimalist landscape set a contemplative mood.

There’s a bit of theatricality when each Louie enters to take a chair behind an ankle-high table bristling with stubby water bottles. The conversation follows its own path until the three Louies arrive at their agreed-upon close; a tribute reading of the iconic Chicano anthem, José Montoya’s “El Louie.” It's a heartfelt reading that could have used more energy and one more run-through.


Pérez opens the night reading an extended poem. This sets the tone for the audience: The Three Louies are going to talk, they’ll stop to read stuff they've written, they’ll trade remarks. It's supposed to be fun.

As the three begin to relax they begin to shut out the audience, strip off the cloak of their notoriety, and talk as three artists who’ve known each other and shared similar experiences. It's what the people have come for.

Luis J. Rodríguez

Luis Torres
Luis, Luis J., and Louie take turns with the conversational ball, keeping to their seats, reaching out in widespread gestures. Animated and engaged with one another, they are aware of the setting. To ease their way out of the stultifying awareness of audience, the Louies talk about audiences. It’s a fascinating subject they treat too briefly before segueing to a discussion of growing old, memory and physical deterioration.

With a laugh. As when Louie Pérez doffs his baseball cap and tousles his grey greña, remarking he'd grown into a cue-tip.

Louie Pérez, right; Luis J. Rodríguez
This is what the audience has come for. Let the sharp wit, word play and elegant expression flow.

Discussion turns early to Donald Trump before quickly moving on. The candidate sucks out all the joy that motivates satire, no amount of hyperbole nor reductio can challenge the bathos of the New York developer’s ethos. Liberated from that obligatory detour, the Louies let themselves wander with increasing relaxation.

With a willing audience, a listener can think of the night as watching three vatos charlando around the backyard fire, drinking spring water, talking about the things that veteranos talk about. With a difference. Each performs a monologue. Torres reads an essay, Rodríguez a poem, Pérez a poem. The breaks structure the talk into its first act, the second, the grand finale.

Enthusiam raises the stakes for the Louies. Laughter says “they got it!” and this sets the Louies to reach into the general outline they carry, seeking more resonant expressions. For the audience, the wonder comes from impromptu eloquence. Insightful spontaneity yields statements that delight the ear as they touch cultural engrams, like word pronunciation, or Pérez’ story on the Azteca origin of the chancla. As the conversation got up to speed, a Mexican dicho seemed to spark in their minds, más sabe el diablo por viejo que por Diablo.

In this case, a montón of accomplishments helps inform the night’s platica. Torres freelances, writing essays, op-eds, authoring books. Rodríguez’ stint as Poet Laureate of Los Angeles winds up in the Fall. He’s writing, editing, and publishing. Pérez traveled the world making music for generations of music listeners.

Denise Sandoval, Ph.D., is Professor of Chicano Studies at Cal State Northridge

Closing out the evening, the three Louies welcomed Denise Sandoval to moderate the Q&A. Sandoval, an expert on lowriding, didn't get to do much. The ever-loquacious Louies took questions and tributes and ran with them.

Some enchanted evening it was. Upoming at Grand Performances is an escabeche workshop and music from Mexcrissy.

The Louies wrap the evening's talk.
California Center and Grand Performances have joined the roster of LA arts destinations. Public transportation can get you there if you're able-bodied. Arrive downtown LA early and plan to stay late after parking on Olive Street. Wear sturdy footwear. Take the elevator to the plaza level and plan to walk along Grand Avenue. You might catch a recital at the Colburn School, or enjoy a stroll through the plaza at the Museum of Contemporary Art on your way to Disney Hall, where you can grab an espresso at the REDCAT coffee house, or a snack at Disney Hall.

Frst ever, Highland Park COMIC CON Comes to Avenue 50 Studio

Featuring comic book publishers & artists, The Highland Park Comic Con is co-sponsored by The Latino Comics Expo and will exhibit the work almost twenty artists and graphic novel creators.

Click here for link to Avenue 50 Studio.


Steve said...

Great round up post! By chance is there audio of the event? I wasn't able to make it but would love to hear the conversation. Gracias!

Thelma T. Reyna said...

I've been hearing about the 3 Louies for a long time now. I know two of them--Torres and Rodriguez--and enjoyed learning about the 3rd Louie. Sounds like it was a fascinating, engaging event. Hope to catch them in their next "platica." Thanks for writing this, Michael. Adelante!