Posted by Nathalie Weinstein
It is not very often that one of the lead characters in a play is nothing more than a grunting head sitting on a tabletop. That was the case Sunday afternoon when I attended a matinee of Miracle Theater's production of The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa. Part situational comedy, part social satire, the play focuses on a family of Chicano farmworkers in 1960s California.
Matriarch Cruz (Bunnie Rivera) has her hands full with a cockroach infested house, a son in jail, Joaquin, a pregnant daughter, Lupe, an alcoholic, out-of-work husband, Pedro, and another son, Mingo, who returns from the military only to degrade the quality of life she has been trying to provide. And then there is Belarmino (Vicente GuzmÃƒÆ’¡n-Orozco), her son, who was born with only a head. That doesn't stop him from having a hell of time, though, grunting, belting La Cucaracha and downing enough tortillas and beans to eat Cruz and her family out of house and home. And when Belarmino begins to speak, and convince Joaquin that he is actually the living head of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, then things really start to get complicated.
Written by acclaimed Chicano playwright Luis Valdez (who also penned La Bamba and Zoot Suit) the play utilizes stereotypes of Mexican culture to explore cultural tensions not only within the country., but within the family itself. Throughout the production, it was hard to take your eyes off of Orozco, his full-haired noggin sitting on various tabletops, grinning maniacally and farting through his mouth. Albert Alacazar's Joaquin managed to balanceover-the-top machismo with an internal sadness, while Yolanda Suarez gave an energetic portrayel of Lupe; her exasperation at having to care for the shrunken head of her brother is priceless.
Miracle's production provided the perfect balance between physical humor, and social commentary, leaving the audience in stitches, but with a greater understanding of the issues facing Chicano families.
Miracle Theater info:
What: THE SHRUNKEN HEAD OF PANCHO VILLA
A comedy written by Luis Valdez
Directed by Olga Sanchez
Sponsored by El Hispanic News
When: May 8-30, 2009
Friday, May 8, 8:00 p.m., $22 Opening Night
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., $20
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., $22
Sundays at 2:00 p.m., $20
Where: Milagro Theatre, 525 SE Stark Street, Portland, Oregon 97214
Admission: $20 – $22 depending on date; $16 for students and seniors any performance;
Tickets can be purchased from www.milagro.org, 503-236-7253
or the PDX Ticket Network box office at the Hollywood Theatre daily 1-9 p.m.
*Photo by Russell Young