57 Chevy Review - The American Dream

 

The saga of an immigrant family - a rags to riches tale - captures the stresses, fears, warmth, chuckles, and absolute hilarity when a family from a Mexican village is transplanted to South Central Los Angeles - and eventually to the “Same” Fernando Valley (where houses, people, and customs are exactly alike). But, as Papa puts it, “Outside is America; inside this house is Mexico” - and Mexican rules are going to apply to his children - or else. At the same time, Papa craves the American dream and believes that “work is life, and life is work.” He finally achieves financial success and wants his only son to become “a doctor, a lawyer, or at least an engineer.” Junior Franco may have different ideas.

 

 

57 Chevy - Ric Salinas - Photo by Stephen Mihalek

 

Papa Franco lives in Mexico with his wife and children when he fortuitously happens upon an Angeleno whose Volkswagen has broken down in the middle of nowhere. He quickly repairs the problem, and the grateful gringa (who also works in the U.S. consulate) arranges for Papa to come to Los Angeles, where a job as a Volkswagen mechanic awaits. Papa’s first purchase? A 57 Chevy which to him symbolizes the American dream. After a year, Papa drives his 57 Chevy to Mexico to retrieve his wife and children; and the family settles in the South Central Los Angeles of the late 1950's - a melting pot of humanity with every background and color represented. Franco Junior quickly adapts, although his mother, who speaks Spanglish and is a closet curandero, clings to her background. The children attend a private Catholic school, dubbed by Papa Our Lady of Perpetual Chastity in honor of his three daughters - but later Our Lady of Perpetual Tuition as the bills mount. Young Franco describes his father “like duct tape...he could fix anything.” Franco’s mother decorates the home with a circle of virgins and a Caucasian Christ with blue eyes that follow you wherever you go. And Franco Junior finally gets to be an altar boy. Even when cultural differences abound as the Franco children struggle for autonomy and voice their 1960's political views, warmth, love, and laughter always seem to surround the family. There is little doubt that the lessons Franco Junior learns as a child will follow him into adulthood. 

 

 

57 Chevy - Ric Salinas - Photo by Stephen Mihalek

 

57 CHEVY is a production of The Latino Theater Company. Written by Cris Franco (note how his name morphed from Cristobal into Mr. Cool Valley Cris), 57 CHEVY memorializes his growing-up years as Franco Junior (Ric Salinas) transitions from homogeneous Mexico to heterogeneous South Central L.A. - and finally to the homogeneous San Fernando Valley - where he is the odd man out and wants above all to fit in. Director Valerie Dunlap really “gets’ what playwright Cris Franco is saying and does an excellent job of bringing Franco’s words to life with the able assistance of talented Ric Salines. Salinas does an extraordinary job of conveying the events that shaped Franco as he becomes Papa, Mama, three sisters, a nun/teacher, and numerous other characters Franco meets as he matures. Even Papa’s “special chair” and the family’s “two televisions” - one to see and one to hear - seem to develop lives of their own. Staging is simple, with two tables changing form to “become” something else. In this case, simple is better. Nothing should detract from Salinas’ strong performance. This is a not-to-be missed production.

 

 

57 Chevy - Ric Salinas - Photo by Stephen Mihalek

 

57 CHEVY runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013. Currently, 57 CHEVY is slated to run through 12/6/15. Tickets cost $32 (general), $37 (premium seating), and $24 (students, seniors, and veterans). For reservations, call 866-811-4111 or go online at www.thelatc.org.

 

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