San Diego, CA—Downtown San Diego, waaaay downtown between 14th Street to 17th Street, Broadway Avenue to G Street in East Village a ginormous black water tank hangs upside down on a huge stand with SILO ‘boldly emblazed on top and an “M” painted inside a huge square. SILO ‘is the areas raw authentic open space on the corner of 15th and F.’ It has played host to several venues bringing crowds to the area of East Village that might never have ventured south of Broadway. Well here we are.
In this arena of Makers Quarter, a rough sand lot with makeshift seating, graffiti strewn junk yard, a broken down Sea World truck (Fausto’s Truck) stuffed with boxes of years of leftover rubbish, an array of TV sets some that actually transmit images, two large metal containers, street sounds including motorcycles and ambulance sirens becomes the setting for Herbert Siguenza’s world premiere, “El Henry”. It is his latest incarnation and exploration into the mindset of our own culture clash by way of his Chicano performance group ‘Culture Clash’, of which he is a founding member.
Keep in mind though that Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I based on father/son relationships is simply the vehicle for Siguenza’s satire/comedy. This is Culture Clash pure and simple with all the accouterment. Siguenza and his group have been bringing the Chicano view into the fore since 1984. Their skits and plays have become part of the natural landscape where the Chicano/Hispanic experience has been around for decades. This is reimaged Shakespeare a la Culture Clash.
Siguenza, along with The San Diego Repertory Theatre, director Sam Woodhouse and The La Jolla Playhouse have collaborated to kick off the Playhouses WoW series (Without Walls) highlighting this new piece “El Henry”. It has been adapted and is based on the travails of Shakespeare’s King Henry IV, Part I. It is a funny, wild and wooly romp into a futuristic time where the local landscape has gone to seed, bad blood runs between dueling ruling factions and between father and son. Everyone except El Henry wants a piece of the action.
“El Henry”plays out in the year 2045 in a run down wasteland that once was the thriving city of San Diego. All the Gringos made the migration from San Diego east; the place is in ruins. Water is in short supply and there is no law or order so to speak. It is post-apocalyptic or according to Siguenza ‘a post-Anglo society in which California has left to the Chicano’s and Hispanic’s’.
The area is now called Aztlan City. The cast of characters, as you might imagine, now controlling things is the same group that occupies the Bard’s Henry IV, they have similar but different names and speak a different language. The conflicts run parallel, as you might imagine, to the cast of characters in Shakespeare’s Henry.
The leader in this barrio ruins is El Hank’s (John Padilla). He is getting old and tired of the warring factions and what will become of this wasteland when he can no longer fight them off. He needs help but is estranged from his next in line succession, son El Henry (Lakin Valdez). El Johnny (William Thomas Hodgson), his younger son, lacks experience.
El Henry, who is a good for nothing, hangs out with the wrong gangsta types crowds. They congregate at the community hangout, Chiqui’s Tavern. Fausto, the larger than life presence and leader of sorts, is ever present. Here we also get to meet up with the low life gals wanting in on the action. Particularly interesting is Roxane Carrasco, as Chiqui the owner of the establishment. She’s also Ms. Toughie complete with eye patch and always pushing to go into the battle.
El Henry, who wants no part of the throne and could care less if El Bravo (Kinan Valdez) his cousin, son of El Thomas (Victor C. Contreras), the rival gang that is rebelling, takes control. And so the schemes play out, the battles rage on and to quote the Bard, “All’s Well…. well.
Siguenza’s Fausto is overstuffed to the nines looking like the rotund comic that we’ve come to love in the character Falstaff. He’s all over the place offering comic relief with antics that are mind-boggling. Let’s just say that he’s the perfect foil for all that is going to happen around the stage. He works his big butt off in almost every scene including running away from any hostilities he sees coming his way.
Having both Lakin and Kinan Valdez, sons of the noted playwright Louis Valdez (“Zoot Suit” and “La Bamba”), is quite a coup for those of us who have seen them individually in performances here but never performing together. The senior Valdez is the founder of El Teatro Campesino another theatre voice dedicated to the Latino experience.
As heir apparent to the throne Lakin’s El Henry is a mighty handsome dude with a dangerous looking charm of his own. Kinan’s El Bravo shows a very physical side, both daring and cunning. Both have great sex appeal, are tremendously skillful at their craft. To their credit they and are able, along with John Padilla’s El Hank, to set the tone especially in Woodhouses capable hands.
John Padilla is a powerhouse as El Hank, appearing in almost every scene, atop a building, sitting on his ‘throne’ (a bright red velvet looking desk chair) and barking out orders. Sequenza’s Fausto all but steals the show as a larger than life presence. There are about fifteen actors, many who play multiple roles. They make this project succeed with their total dedication and unflinching commitment and physical cunning.
Speaking of East Village, this project took a village to get the needed excellent results audiences are able to admire: Ian Wallace designed the grubby but useful set, Moxie magician Jennifer Brawn Gittings’ seventy-five or so costumes are amazing amalgamations of everything but the kitchen sink thrown in style, Jennifer Setlow’s lighting takes over when darkness set in, Edgar Landa’s flight design couldn’t have felt more realistic (I was sitting right under the combatants flight path) and Javier Velasco choreographed.
The the eye-popping props of the evening were the carefully choreographed appearance of three Classic, shiny and completely restored low rider early 50’s Chevy’s and a spiffed up motorcycle. Yes I remember it well, having owned a 1955 Chevy sedan myself.
Do brush up on your Shakespeare it will make your life easier. It wouldn’t hurt either if you glanced at the glossary of Urban Spanish and English slang (the talk used throughout) on the back of your program for some clarity, if you feel you need it. And OH! Dress warm. Other than that, sit back, take it all in and enjoy this dare devil ride.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through June 29th
Organization: San Diego Rep. and La Jolla Playhouse
Production Type: Satire
Where: SILO in Makers Quarters, East Village, 753 15th Street downtown San Diego
Ticket Prices: 25.00
Venue: Dirt Lot Makers Quarters