The Sweetheart Deal Review - A Fight to the Finish

Written and directed by Obie winner Diane Rodriguez, THE SWEETHEART DEAL follows the struggles encountered by the United Farm Workers in the 1960’s and 1970’s seen through the eyes of a pair of journalists who volunteer in the battle for fair treatment of Mexican farm workers. This was a tumultuous time for Cesar Chavez and the UFW, and playwright Rodriguez traces the development of the movement from its earliest days through the eyes of Mac (David DeSantos) and Mari (Ruth Livier), a couple who put their idealism to the test.

Ruth Livier and Linda Lopez - Photo by Grettel Cortes

Rodriguez attempts to leaven this intense and often tragic tale through the inclusion of five new “actos,” or short, commedia del arte inspired satirical skits – a method actually employed in the 1960’s in El Teatro Campesino, or Farm Workers’ Theatre, by activist Luis Valdez. Actos were meant to both educate and entertain and became popular and an inspiration among the simple farmworkers called upon to fight the protracted fight. In THE SWEETHEART DEAL, actos manage to inject humor into the very serious events which history has recorded.

Linda Lopez, David DeSantos, Valente Rodriguez - Photo by Grettel Cortes

Mac and Mari leave the comfort of their middle class home to enter the fray, two volunteers who live the struggle from its inception. They encounter other volunteers, all accepting the toll on their lives as they put their future plans on hold. Meanwhile, the “Bossman” and his minions seem to be winning as they become partners in the conflict with members of the Teamsters Union. It seems that nothing is “below the belt” in this battle.

Ruth Livier and Linda Lopez - Photo by Grettel Cortes

THE SWEETHEART DEAL hits the highlights of the UFW struggle to gain recognition and – eventually – the changes that they are fighting for. In fact, an underground newspaper was born during the 1960’s – El Malcriado – which served to unite the farmworkers and let them know that low wages, poor working conditions, and the use of dangerous pesticides were all targeted for change.

Peter Wylie, Linda Lopez, Ruth Livier, and Valente Rodriguez - Photo by Grettel Cortes

Before the show, audiences were told that school children were attending theater matinees to see the play. As the story progressed, it became clear and this piece was designed to let kids see how immigrants fought for civil rights and how the present generation has benefitted from past often violent struggles – a message which seems very timely and highly relevant at this time. Despite its good intentions, however, THE SWEETHEART DEAL often edges close to propaganda, a political tract  whose message is focused on what is going on among immigrant groups at this moment. While the message is powerful and meaningful, it was somewhat heavy-handed and may test the boundaries of theater entertainment.

Linda Lopez and Geoffrey Rivas - Photo by Grettel Cortes

Efren Delgadillo’s simple scenic design, combined with the skilled efforts of the entire production team, served to keep the focus on the message behind the production. THE SWEETHEART DEAL is a “semi-documentary” which should prove enlightening to audiences seeking more information about this period of time.

THE SWEETHEART DEAL runs through June 4, 2017, with performances at 11 a.m. (student matinees on May 24 and May 31), at 8 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays, and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The Tom Bradley Theatre is located at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013. Tickets range from $22 to $52. For information and reservations, call 866-811-4111 or go online.

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