Francisco’s Fire Review - A Modernized Twist On A Classic Psychological Tale

Francisco’s Fire is an adaptation based loosely on the German dramatist Georg Büchner’s stage play Woyzeck written and conceived by Seattle native (now Los Angeles based) playwright and director Keith Watabayashi.  Büchner left this particular work incomplete at his death at age 23, but it has been posthumously “finished” in a variety of genres including an opera and provided inspiration for a movie adaptation.  Woyzeck has become one of the most performed and influential plays in the German theatre repertory.  It’s safe to say that this play not only influenced early 19th century literature, but also current and ideological issues that affect our world today.

Similar to the plot of Woyzeck, Francisco’s Fire is told in modern day times and tells the story of a Latino Immigrant named Francisco (Eli Hernandez), who works a boring and tedious job as an attendant in a Hollywood hotel to support his adulterous wife (Ana Lopes) and his child.  He is described as a commoner and a reflection on the struggles of what is apparent in the Latino American community.  Throughout the play, the audience can visualize Francisco’s struggle with his inner demons.  As they threaten to emerge and weaken his inner soul, his subconscious begins to take over.  With the combined stress of his feeble attempts to make a better life for himself, along with outside forces dehumanizing him, Francisco begins to give in to the rage and anger he feels and commits a heinous act that takes him to the point of no return.

Francisco (Eli Hernandez) and Marie (Ana Lopes) in a climactic moment of the play.



Eli Hernandez gives a strong and visceral portrayal of the tortured Francisco.  His facial expressions and his awareness of being in the moment allow the audience to empathize with Francisco’s pain and struggle.  The role of Francisco definitely carries the show and Hernandez’s choice of using subtle rage versus over-the-top melodrama makes his performance on point.  There are times when Hernandez could easily give the audience more as far as levels go, but he does a great job nonetheless of displaying to us Francisco’s tortured soul.  Ana Lopes’ performance as Francisco’s philandering and manipulative wife, Marie, began to grow after the second act as the audience got to see her “supposed” genuine concern for Francisco’s state of mind.  The other supporting characters tend to be basic fillers and could do so much more in action, volume and characterization to make themselves memorable.
 

The doctors checking Francisco over.

What makes this play work is Watabayashi’s effective use of stage pictures.  There are elements of Bertolt Brecht’s work that is found throughout this play.  Like Brecht, Watabayashi draws upon critical aesthetics and the ‘epic theatre’ concept.  The lighting also gives a nuanced image of Francisco when he starts to have “visions”.  He has a unique way of manipulating the scenes as the storyline progresses on stage - from a hotel bar scene - to the staging of a steamy encounter - to Francisco alone in a stark corner with red lighting descending into madness.  The subtle action of each scene plays out at the same time like frames to a movie.  The only minor problem with the staging of this show is that the characters have their backs facing the audience.  The characters are not aware of their body positions and, consequently, their voices tend to get lost.  This is especially noticeable in the hotel bar scenes where the staging could work to the director’s advantage and involve not only the supporting characters present in the scene, but also the audience so that the audience can participate in the ambiance of a bar atmosphere.

Francisco (Eli Hernandez) stands alone in the spotlight conveying the inner demons that are haunting him.


 
Overall, Watabayashi stays true to the early 19th Century plot of Buchner’s tale of social conditions, as well as the exploration of complex themes such as poverty, revenge and manipulation.  There are few genres of modern theatrical culture (i.e., plays, musicals and performance art) that have not felt the impact or influence of Brecht's ideas and practices.  By choosing to convey the message of this play with the use of prominent Latino characters in modern day Los Angeles, the two ideas (Buchner’s and Brecht’s) merge seamlessly well for this adaptation.  The main character, Francisco, is considered as a commoner by other people of a higher stature which is evident.  Watabayashi effectively captures the history and the understanding of this tragic  tale of a deeply flawed character and tells it in a way that today’s society should be able to understand and relate to its true plight and dehumanization.

Francisco's Fire stars Dagmar Edwards, Mitch Feinstein, Eli Hernandez, Matteo Indelicto, Ana Lopes, Alejandro Rodriguez, Donnell Safford, Zan Calabretta and Natali Steele and is currently being performed at:

Complex (Dorie) Theatre
6476 Santa Monica Blvd.
Hollywood, CA  90038
Valet Parking

Special Show Info.
Running time: 85 minutes.
There will be an intermission.
For Reservations, please contact:
(323) 960-4420

For more information, visit: (www.plays411.com/franciscosfire

Runs
Sat, November 10th – Sun, December 16th
Thursday through Saturday @ 8PM
Sundays @ 7PM

Show Calendar

No Performances
Thursday, November 22nd
(Thanksgiving)

Buy Tickets
$18 Thursday-Sunday nights
$15 for students

Photos provided by Keith Watabayashi.


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