Melancholia Review

When Melancholia opens, we meet two Fools, Skittles (Carmen Corral) and Tar (Fidel Gomez). After a confused chaos in darkness, they have managed to prevent just one soldier from going into 'the light.' In order to save the soldier, the two agree that they should show him his life, illuminate the idea that all hope is not lost. Tar agrees, as long as it is done 'dramatically.'

Carmen Corral(l.), Michael Esparza and Fidel Gomez in "Melancholia"

Thus we shift to a scene in the past, when Mario is returning home from the War. His family is preparing for his return, rehearsing what to say and what not to say. Father Frank (Geoff Rivas) is light and entertaining, ever the proud father. Lydia (Lucy Rodriguez) is the anxious mother who just wants to put her arms around her son again. Christine (Esperanza America Ibarra) is the smart, politically minded young daughter who knows the correct names to everything. When girlfriend Alexis (Tonantzin Esparza) arrives with our hero, back from Iraq, things are awkward, but still all right. At least that is how it appears on the surface.
The scene shift back to a point even further in the past of young Mario grappling with the reality that graduating from high school in the end; he has no clue of what he will do with his life. Enter The Military with its attractive song and dance (literally, a doowop number with swing dancing and all). The Military sings its catchy tune about money for college, women falling at Mario's feet and adventure abroad, for only two weekends a month. So Mario enlists with a friend, Ruben (Hugo Medina). It is only upon Mario's return home that war has changed him.

Michael Esparza in "Melancholia" at Los Angeles Theatre Center.


He realizes that the sound of fireworks at New Years will never be the same again, and sleep will never come easy because he is too horrified by the images he sees even when his eyes are closed. He realizes that his soul will never be the same once he is witness to the mangled ruin bodies of dead friends or obeys an order to shoot an unarmed man. Moreover, Mario understands that he will never be able to adequately convene the trauma and horror to the family that loves him, making bottles of tequila and the tight end of a noose look more attractive by the moment.

The character of Mario is played by three different actors: Ramiro Segovia, Sam Golzari & Michael Esparza. The staging choice did not have any apparent device to it, expect perhaps to refer back to the initial dilemma of the Fools: keeping Mario from going 'into the light'. Having the character see himself at different points in the play reminds the audience that he is seeing his past, and he still have a decision to make, that he can still pull back.

Barring a few costume malfunctions and a prominent prop mishap, The Los Angeles Theater Center's Latino Theater Company delivered a spectacularly engaging show. All actors are painted whiteface with rose lips, and play multiple characters throughout the show. Every member of the ten-player ensemble gave an honest, exciting performance. There was no weak link in the company. Truly well done. 

Tonantzin Esparza & Michael Esparza in "Melancholia"

From the backwards-spoken whispers at house open to a cappella rendition of Dido's Lament during a tragic moment, John Zalewski's Sound Design for the production was rich and full without being overbearing. Francois-Pierre Couture's Lighting design danced a seamless waltz between practical and stage lighting, becoming jarring and intimate when appropriate.

I truly loved the humanity of this production. I felt engaged in the piece every moment of the show, without feeling as though I have been manipulated emotionally. The show successfully combines an array of forms and styles to create a brilliant storytelling tapestry and a fresh invigorating theater experience. The piece incorporates equal parts drama and farce, poetry and movement, environmental theater and musical theater, with an intelligent and judicious use of Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Tonantzin Esparza and Sam Golzari (foreground) & Michael Esparza & Lucy Rodriguez (bg) in "Melancholia"

Ironically, the 85-minute performance remained surprisingly light in tone for its subject matter. This show does not preach at its audience or cry poor me, or even point fingers of blame. It presents a story of a family whom we all know and slowly reveals the destructive nature of war that lies just beneath the surface, which has affected them all.

The show is book ended with Henry Purcell's opera piece 'Dido's Lament: When I am Laid in Earth'.  The haunting voice of a mezzo-soprano wails over and over, 'Remember me' ' Harkening our attention to the fact that there are still soldier servicing their country, dying for their country, and many of them are mere boys who are scarred for life before they even become men.

The Los Angeles Theater Center is located on Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles. Due to construction, the entrance to the theater is temporarily located in the rear of the building. But do not let the alleyway deter you. Great theater is happening just around the corner.

Photos: Carol Peterson

May 31 June 23, 2007
Thursday, Fridays 8pm
Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm

514 S. Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90013
$15 Students/Seniors/Groups of 10+


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