Friday, March 04, 2005

House on Mango Street; A Novel Hits the Hustings

Michael Sedano, Pasadena Califas

Not quite sure if I've ever seen a husting, but that's where dramatized novels go when theater companies bring the printed page to a live audience. Sandra Cisnero's The House on Mango Street has been adapted by Amy Ludwig and is currently performed by The East Los Angeles Repertory Theater Company.

The playwright gives Cisneros' first person narrator two characters, Esperanza the young adult, and teenaged Esperanza. They alternate the role. The older Esperanza, wearing a rebozo as nonverbal hommage to Cisnero's opus major, Caramello, introduces the play as the cast pantomimes the action center stage. When young Esperanza narrates, she steps into the action.

Ludwig has honored the narrative structure of Cisneros' novel, creating dialog sparingly. Unless one has memorized the novel, it's difficult to hear if Ludwig has changed or added to the novelist's words; I think not. I was driven to attend wondering about the mechanics of converting the novel's world to that of a stage performance. Ludwig's mechanics are excellent, plus, the East LA Rep's performance was a wonderful theatrical experience.

Happy hustings! I've heard that Ludwig's script has been performed in San Jose CA, and as a one-woman show in Los Angeles. Hopefully, The House on Mango Street will reach a stage near you, soon. If not, come out to California. Here's my review of the performance.

The House on Mango Street, now running at La Casa del Mexicano Theater in Los Angeles is not a "must see" but a "why haven't you seen
it yet?"

Produced by East Los Angeles Repertory Theatre Company, Amy Ludwig's adaptation captures the essence of Sandra Cisneros' beloved novel. Jesus A. Reyes' direction gives the narrative script vivid liveliness, filling the large stage with activity and some inspired staging in the acto tradition of teatro chicano. Most rewardingly, the performance sizzles. These actors know their craft and practice their art sublimely. Particularly superb is newcomer Mariella Saba's Esperanza, the perfect casting for the role.

This production should be on the Mark Taper Forum's main stage, with Saba playing lead. But the Taper needs to hurry; the seventeen-year old will quickly outgrow the part. Reyes' director's chair must have been a pleasure. The Company's outlandishly talented actors Cristela Saravia, Juan Enrique Carrillo, Richard Andrade, Marina E. Gonzales, Raquel Sanchez, and Blanca M. Melchor, move comfortably from character to character, the minimalist set demanding they fill each role with voice, facial expression, and movement. With the right tools, you can do anything, and these actors have great tools, well worth the drive to this out-of-the-way auditorium.

The East Los Angeles theatre experience has a few drawbacks that a million dollar grant from an arts organization could fix with a snap of the checkbook. I hope the East LA Rep finds a funding source. Audiences familiar with the early days of Ivy Substation on the Westside, or the house at the Actor's Gang in Hollywood, will recognize the same potential in the Eastside's La Casa del Mexicano Theater. For its part right away, the company could improve playbill information. For instance, the actor playing Sally, the Saturday I attended, deserves recognition for her presence and skill, but the roles aren't named other than as "Woman #1" "Woman #2" and "Woman #3."

This company merits wider support. Area theatre-goers will be encouraged to learn several of Los Angeles' better Mexican restaurants and taco stands are nearby--La Serenata de Garibaldi or Siete Mares, for more complex cuisine; King Taco or Cinco Puntos for hand-held fast food; Manuel's or El Gallo for sit-down home style cooking. The local ambience--but especially the excellence of the theatre-- make a drive out to Pedro Infante Street an event to invite friends along. The East LA Rep's 6-play season continues through November.

The House on Mango Street runs weekends through March 13. La Casa del Mexicano Theater, 2900 Calle Pedro Infante, Los Angeles, CA 90063

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's currently being performed in San Jose again, for Teatro Vision at the Mexican Heritage Plaza!