by Oscar T. Basulto
Light in the Darkness is an often savage story which is still too common in working class neighborhoods. Originally written by Victor Tamayo, the story is about soldiers returning from the first Gulf War and their struggles with drugs. Director Ramon “Monxi” Flores’ adaptation focuses on a group of young Chicanos who struggle with the various pitfalls of urban life from where to find the next high, to executing their own brand of street justice, to the near impossible: breaking away from gangs.
Johnny Ortiz plays Carlos Alvarado, a young man who is on the constant hustle. When his drug dealer, Sandman (Aurelio Yeiyotl Medina), is chased off his turf by a gang of paisas, (a pejorative term referring to recently arrived Mexicans), he goes to Carlos for help. An armed Carlos and Sandman return to confront the interlopers. Carlos’ subsequent acts of violence and drug abuse trigger off a dizzying storyline that navigates in and out of time and consciousness.
The story moves fast and the quick scene changes make for some choppy pacing. Although a lot of time is spent on the supporting characters’ storylines, they are not fully fleshed out. This is especially true for the women in the play, who are given very little dimension and nuance. Liz (Sara Aceves), Carlos’ girlfriend has very little to do aside from being the suffering partner to a man on the path to self-destruction.
Despite these challenges, the 14 actor cast works hard to give life to the 42 different characters we meet. Although at times the screaming on stage does push the performances to the extreme, making some of the important plot points, such as when Liz tells Carlos she is pregnant, hard to follow. There are also some terrific moments, especially the Christmas Carol-like scenes where Carlos is visited by family members from his past and future, and an exceptional meeting he has with his 12 year old self.
This production also benefits from an outstanding technical crew, starting with the set design by Marco De Leon. Given the number of scenes and scene changes, De Leon’s design facilitates the transitions by allowing the actors to make seamless entrances and exits. It also conveys the classic arching designs of Boyle Height’s iconic bridges. Coupled with Sohail e. Najafi’s lighting design and projections, the set also provides a malleable canvas on which the characters can move through the numerous locations and states of consciousness. Their collaborative efforts provide a visually stimulating experience which places the audience everywhere from Alvarado’s apartment, to Hollenbeck Park, to a cholo Valhalla, which is one of the more memorable points in the show.
The ultimate message is a positive one: Alvarado is held responsible for his actions by the people most affected by them. In the process he learns that he has much in common with his enemies and comes to regret the havoc he creates for them as well as those close to him. Light in the Darkness will appeal to theatergoers who believe that the importance of art goes beyond its aesthetic value and can appreciate the message despite artistic shortcomings.
* * *
*Recommended for Mature Audiences Only*
Light in the Darkness
Written by Victor Tamayo
Adapted and Directed by Ramon “Monxi” Flores
Casa 0101 Theater
2102 E. First Street
Los Angeles, CA 90033
September 6-29, 2013
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 5:00 p.m.,
Tickets: 323-263-7684 or buy online at www.casa0101.org