Running Commentary: Ifigenia (left, Carla Pantoja), Abuela (Vivis, center) and Clemencia (Dena Martinez, smoking) give Electricidad (Adelina Anthony, right, kneeling) plenty of advice in 'Electricidad.'
Teatro Visión presents a bit of classic Greece in San Jose with 'Electricidad'
By Marianne Messina
HOW DO YOU create the oppressive look and feel of an L.A. barrio? For Teatro Visión's production of Electricidad, director Mark Valdez with scenic designer Michael Walsh has set four black electrical transformer poles and a rigging of high tension lines looming behind the action. And it's not L.A. (Luis Alfaro's original inspiration for the play) but "San Jo, the East Side." Many scenes open in dusky lighting under the black silhouettes of these structures and to the bug zapping sound of electricity jumping.
Electricidad's mother and nemesis, Clemencia (Dena Martinez), often emerges from among these shadows in equally ominous silhouette as she takes to the towering platform that is her domain, the house of Atridas. In the upside-down world of this Chicano take on Sophocles' Electra, the dark forces come from on high. At ground level, Electricidad (Adelina Anthony) mourns the death of her father curled up against the makeshift cinderblock bier where candles burn and the body of the dead cholo kingpin decays.
Clemencia has killed him, and Electricidad wants to avenge his death in the name of the "old cholo ways." Martinez's attractive but speed-freak thin Clemencia oozes callousness and neurosis ("Say 'I love you, Mother'"), yet she's hardly the vicious Medea that Electricidad imagines. And as Electricidad's paternal abuela/grandmother warns, "Even cholos have standards. You don't kill the mother."
That is Electricidad's conundrum as she pines and whines on the front lawn for all to see. According to Abuela (a sensational acting job by Vivis), this open display of emotion is a generational weakness: "You don't know how to make the mask." Reaching up under her short skirt to scratch her ass, Vivis' platform-sandled, gum-chewing, beer-swilling Abuela drew cheers on her exits at a recent performance. Vivis' Abuela is clearly a former wild-woman turned sage elder. Abuela uses pot as a cutoff valve for discussions "getting too pesado."
Carla Pantoja also turns out a unique performance as Ifigenia, Electricidad's dyke sister, an ex-con-turned-monastic-acolyte. With tattoos escaping from her white dress shirt, overly made-up, broad-shouldered and mannish yet wearing skirt and combat boots (Cecila Galindo costume design), Ifi is the embodiment of conflict. Likewise, the broom-wielding vecinas, counterparts of the Greek chorus, give voice to the barrio's internal conflicts. Moving almost as one body, the three neighbors nevertheless blurt out highly disparate opinions: Clemencia's killing her husband came too easy; "She didn't even break a nail"; but the cholo was a bully; "And that makes it right?" "She wants to be queen"; "Como la Oprah."
Behind their desperate neighborhood scouring is the push to get back to "la vida normal" (not to mention their soap operas). Through the vecinas we see that the "static" status quo may actually be a temporary equilibrium of chaotic cross-purposes. As the vecinas, Elisa Marina Alvarado, Rose Mendoza and Laura Bustamante deserve props for ejecting synchronized language while scurrying about like nervous squirrels.
In spite of the stale and needlessly derivative ending, Alfaro's play is charged with genius. For one, it's a nest of unanswered questions. "Why do they always blame the mother?" Clemencia asks. And for that matter, why do victims side with their abusers? But with Valdez's help, the play's most rewarding richness comes from impressionistic elementsfor example, the music and motion of the characters. The three vecinas complement the three-generations of strong Atridas women like large and small gear systems in a single clockwork. The slow-moving Atridas women think in big concepts and form a historic backbone for this claustrophobic world. But intricate to the everyday running of the system are the up-tempo, busy-bee neighbors. And one can argue that the novela-watching vecinas with their myopic, apian drive have the last word.
Electricidad, a Teatro Visión production, plays Thursday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through April 2 at the Mexican Heritage Plaza Theater, 1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $15-$18. (408.272.9926)
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