TR Robertson “American Mariachi”, currently on the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage at the Old Globe Theatre, will take those attending through the highs and lows of a family at the crossroads of an emotional crisis and a young lady who wants to follow her dreams. Along the way, the audience will learn a great deal about the incredible talents of mariachi musicians and the history of this beautiful form of music.
“American Mariachi” is directed by James Vasquez, who has directed a number of plays at The Old Globe, in association with Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company. The play is written by Jose Cruz Gonzalez, professor at California State University, Los Angeles and a Playwright-in-residence at Childsplay in Tempe, Arizona and at South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa. He has written 9 plays and was a 2016 PEN Center USA Literary Award Finalist. In an interview Gonzalez said he fell in love with mariachi music after he fell in love with the music after he took a mariachi course at the college where he taught. He added the element of a woman struggling with dementia to the story after he heard about a woman with this horrible debilitating disease who found great joy in hearing mariachi music. The result is a play that shows the struggle of women in the 1970’s trying to break into a musical field dominated by men and each struggling with their own personal problems.
Photos provided by The Old Globe
Mariachi music goes back over 100 years, first appearing in the 1850’s. The male-dominated music slowly began introducing women in the groups, as singers only, in the late 1920’s. The first all-female group of any notoriety was Las Rancheritas, who, in 1967, were asked to entertain troops in Vietnam; but the first all-female mariachi group is believed to be Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, beginning in 1994.
“American Mariachi” is set in the mid-1970’s, somewhere in the western United States. Lucha, played by 2017 Craig Noel Award winner for Actor of the Year, Female, Jennifer Paredes, is dealing with her mother Amalia, played by Doreen Montalvo, who is suffering from increasing bouts of dementia, and a father, trying to make a living as a mariachi musician while dealing with his wife’s illness. Lucha wants to make something of herself, she’s studying to be a nurse, but realizes “family is everything”. She and her cousin, Boli, played by Heather Velazquez, discover an old 45 rpm record that they play, only to find it brings great joy to Amalia. Lucha’s father, Federico, played by Bobby Plasencia, discovers them listening to the record and angrily snaps the record. Lucha and Boli don’t understand why the father reacts this way and together they decide to form an all-female mariachi band to play the song Federico destroyed.
Along the way, as they try to find women who will join their group, they will meet women who are each dealing with difficult circumstances and women who are willing to join Lucha’s group and use mariachi’s music as a way to escape what they are going through. Isabel, played by Amanda Robles is dealing with a possessive, abusive husband; Gabby, played by Natalie Camunas, has been kicked out of her choral group in her Catholic church and Soyla, played by Crissy Guerrero works in a salon and once was an aspiring singer. As they struggle to form the band, Lucha turns to Mino, played by Rodney Lizcano, once a family friend, but due to a falling out with Federico, no longer allowed to be around their home. Mino runs a shop where he builds guitars and was once in the mariachi band Federico is now in. Mino agrees to help the group, supplying them with the specific instruments used by mariachi bands.
Throughout the play, an all-male mariachi band appears on stage and in the theatre, acting as reminders as to the sound the female group is striving to reach. At various times in the play, especially when Mino is teaching the young ladies, we receive a history lesson about the purpose of mariachi music, the beginnings of the music, the various musical styles of mariachi, and information about each of the instruments and their importance to the mariachi sound. Every mariachi group has a violin, a guitar, a trumpet, a Mexican vihuela (a bass guitar) and a guitarron (a tenor guitar). Each of the actresses in the group had never played these instruments before rehearsal for the play began. The final scenes inspired all in the sold out audience as male and female mariachi band members in the beautiful charro suits of mariachi performers.
The male mariachi band appearing during the performance is made up of Fernando Guadalupe Zarate Hernandez, Erik Jimenez, Ruben Marin, Martin Padilla and Tom Tinoco. Assisting Director Vasquez is Scenic Designer Regina Garcia, Costume Designer Meghan Anderson Doyle, Lighting Designer Paul Miller, Sound Designer Ken Travis and Music Director Cynthia Reifler Flores.
The play deals with aspirations and dreams, dealing with family struggles and the importance of family, changing traditions, and the power of music. The play is a fast paced, funny, touching, musically entertaining production that will have you standing, clapping to the music and applauding a tremendous performance by a talented group of actors and actresses.
“American Mariachi” runs through April 29th at the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage. Tickets can be purchased at www.TheOldGlobe.org or call 619-234-5623. Ticket prices start at $30.00.