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Growing up in the Valley, through a ''57 Chevy' rear view mirror

The title of “’57 Chevy,” a Latino Theatre Company production at LATC, refers to the hard-top vehicle that brings a family from Mexico to California, where it remains an symbol of the American Dream symbol to its endearingly indomitable paterfamilias.
Although Cris Franco’s autobiographical account of growing up Mexican American in the San Fernando Valley breaks no new ground, it’s a refreshingly unsentimental, and hilarious trek.
Moreover, Culture Clash staple Ric Salinas has a field day as all the characters, beginning with the author, whose silent prologue, crumpling up page after page, certainly registered with this observer.
Enter Cris’ father, a diminutive handyman of boundless Old World self-confidence, and the die is cast.
“My job is to be a mecánico,” he tells his progeny. “Your job is to go to school, get A’s, and become a doctor, or a lawyer, or at least an engineer.”
Franco’s knack for funny lines is everywhere, his sense of behavioral specifics acute, and Salinas gives it his all. Whether embodying the chain-smoking American “munchkin with emphysema” whose broken-down VW permits Dad’s initial immigration, or shifting between altar boy Cris and the priest whose rapid-fire Mass permits him to make his golf game, Salinas delivers the aerodynamic goods.
Under Valerie Dunlap’s streamlined direction, the piece zips along, aided by Yee Eun Nam’s projections. Merely the A Halloween sequence — Franco’s sighing-prone mother is a nother delicious characterization — and the climactic Mexican funeral are but two examples.
The television motifs could be further exploited, and the aftermath of the return to Mexico, where Cris finally understands his heritage after getting soused by a relative, might be slightly expanded for the touching, synoptic ending to land as conclusively as it deserves.
Regardless, anyone who ever felt at odds with their parents and milieu may well identify with this delightfully freewheeling memoir.

“'57 Chevy,” Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A. Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m. Sundays, 3 p.m.; also Monday, Nov. 16, 8 p.m. Ends Dec. 6. $24-$37. (866) 811-4111 or www.thelatc.org. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

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