Don Chipotle Review - New Musical Has Great Elements, Confusing Story

 

(left to right) Karen Rodriguez, Angelica Roque and Isabel Quintero in Juan Francisco Villa’s world premiere DON CHIPOTLE directed by Jo Cattell, presented by terraNOVA Collective and The Playground Theater, in association with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Photo by Joel Maisonet

 

terraNOVA Collective and The Playground Theatre, in association with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events presents the world premiere of Don Chipotle, a new musical by Juan Francisco Villa. The story follows eleven-year-old Celestino, aka Don Chipotle, and his best friend Octavio as they venture through the streets of New York City on Día de los Muertos, trying to right the wrongs of the harsh, violent world around them. This show has a lot of beautiful design, music, and acting work, but its great flaw is its confusing storyline, which left audiences playing catch-up rather than truly engaging in the work.

 

(left to right) Isabel Quintero, Rachel Singer (puppeteer) and Angelica Roque in Juan Francisco Villa’s world premiere DON CHIPOTLE directed by Jo Cattell, presented by terraNOVA Collective and The Playground Theater, in association with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Photo by Joel Maisonet

 

The design for the show is gorgeous; immediately upon entering the room, it is clear that director Jo Cattell had a specific vision for the aesthetic of the show. Cardboard rats, decorative sugar skulls, exposed brick, and dim lighting greet audiences upon entering the space, and immediately we understand that the world we have entered is dark and scary but sometimes beautiful. Lighting design by Erik Barry created beautiful moments, with rich colors washing the stage at key points in the story and smoke catching the light perfectly at times. The skull makeup worn by the majority of the actors was fantastic as well, creating the effect of something dark and eerie but pretty at the same time and allowing characters to exist in a nebulous world between the living and the dead.

 

(front) Angelica Roque (center, left to right) Audrey Webb, Jessica Farfan, Abigail Caruga, Janet Russo, Esme Ayvar-Perez, Alex Gegax, Maggie Baker, Angelina Bill, Lillian Crespo and Isabel Bravo and (back) Lorena Diaz in Juan Francisco Villa’s world premiere DON CHIPOTLE directed by Jo Cattell, presented by terraNOVA Collective and The Playground Theater, in association with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Photo by Joel Maisonet

 

The show also features detailed cardboard props and puppets, allusions to the classic novel Don Quixote, religious elements, a children’s choir, and, according to their program, animation and projections, although the projections appeared to be missing at the performance that I saw. While many of these elements individually were wonderful, when they were all layered on top of one another, it became too much, and the focus of the play seemed to get muddied in favor of an exploration of everything that could be created in this world. The story was difficult to follow at times, and while I certainly enjoyed much of what I saw, the confusing method of storytelling, lack of distinction between what was real and what existed only in Celestino’s imagination, and a key piece of information that is not revealed until the end of the show left me still trying to piece together a plot summary for hours after the show finished.

 

(left to right) Angelica Roque, Karen Rodriguez, Wendy Mateo and Lorena Diaz in Juan Francisco Villa’s world premiere DON CHIPOTLE directed by Jo Cattell, presented by terraNOVA Collective and The Playground Theater, in association with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Photo by Joel Maisonet

 

Although I was not always clear on the storyline, I will say that the acting in this show is phenomenal. Angelica Roque, who played the title character, is a force to be reckoned with. Their portrayal of Celestio’s psychotic break in the face of the realization that his family are murderers and of his transformations into and out of the alter ego Don Chipotle were raw and powerful, and Roque’s acting is absolutely one of the strongest parts of the show. Wendy Mateo, Isabel Quintero, and Lorena Diaz, who functioned as narrators and each played a number of characters throughout the show, including Celestino’s three gangster uncles, were spectacular, needing little more than their own voices and physicality to create unique and engaging characters that were thrilling to watch.

 

(left to right) Isabel Quintero, Wendy Mateo and Lorena Diaz in Juan Francisco Villa’s world premiere DON CHIPOTLE directed by Jo Cattell, presented by terraNOVA Collective and The Playground Theater, in association with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Photo by Joel Maisonet

 

My favorite character, however, was probably Octavio, Celestino’s sweet, bumbling best friend. His desire for sweets and inability to achieve Celestino’s cool, confident manner made him the most relatable character onstage, helping to ground us in the otherwise fantastical world. Another superb element of the show was the music, which ranged from the haunting combination of xylophone and children’s choir to full-blown rap, all of which was written and performed excellently.

 

(left to right) Lorena Diaz and Angelica Roque in Juan Francisco Villa’s world premiere DON CHIPOTLE directed by Jo Cattell, presented by terraNOVA Collective and The Playground Theater, in association with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Photo by Joel Maisonet

 

All in all, Don Chipotle has all the elements of a fantastic show: great direction and design, highly talented actors, fantastic music, and a fresh, original concept. It is certainly unlike any other piece of theatre I’ve seen before. Unfortunately, the overload of elements and lack of clarity in the plot made it difficult to fully immerse oneself in the story. Still, Don Chipotle is worth seeing, and I hope to see more work from these artists in the future.

 

(front) Angelica Roque and Isabel Quintero with (back, left to right) Lorena Diaz and Wendy Mateo in Juan Francisco Villa’s world premiere DON CHIPOTLE directed by Jo Cattell, presented by terraNOVA Collective and The Playground Theater, in association with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Photo by Joel Maisonet

 

Ticket Information

Location: Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph St., Chicago

Regular run: Friday, September 4 – Sunday, September 27, 2015

Curtain Times: Thursdays, Friday and Saturdays at 7.30 pm; Sundays at 2 pm

Tickets: $15. $10 for students, seniors, industry and groups of ten or more. Tickets are currently available here.

 

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