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At timely 'Zoot Suit' revival, the after-party chitchat turns to politics and President Trump

At timely 'Zoot Suit' revival, the after-party chitchat turns to politics and President Trump
From left, Edward James Olmos, Eva Longoria, Cheech Marin and Daniel Guerrero arrive for the opening-night performance of "Zoot Suit" at the Mark Taper Forum on Feb. 12. (Ryan Miller / Capture Imaging)

If opening-night guests at the Mark Taper Forum agreed on one thing, it was that the restaging of "Zoot Suit" couldn't have been timelier. Based on the Sleepy Lagoon murder case and so-called "zoot suit riots" in Los Angeles in the 1940s, the groundbreaking play about the injustices suffered by a group of Mexican American teenagers originally premiered at the same theater in 1978.

Celebrities dotted the enthusiastic Feb. 12 audience, where several gents turned up in zoot suits and more than a few gals sported flowers in their hair.

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Among others in the crowd were Eva Longoria (“Desperate Housewives”); Jaime Camil (“Jane the Virgin”); Cheech Marin (“Nash Bridges”); Edward James Olmos (“Battlestar Galactica”); Tim Roth (“The Hateful Eight”); Suzanne Cryer (“Silicon Valley”); Amy Aquino (”Bosch”); Ana Ortiz (“Ugly Betty”); Justina Machado (“One Day at a Time”); Ed Begley Jr. (“Ghostbusters”); Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza of performance troupe Culture Clash; former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; and Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis.

Cast members Raul Cardona, left, Rose Portillo and Daniel Valdez shown at the party for the opening-night performance Feb. 12 of "Zoot Suit" at the Mark Taper Forum.
Cast members Raul Cardona, left, Rose Portillo and Daniel Valdez shown at the party for the opening-night performance Feb. 12 of "Zoot Suit" at the Mark Taper Forum. (Ryan Miller / Capture Imaging)

Earlier that evening, as he entered the theater, Marin said he'd seen the original and couldn't wait to see the revival. In a nod to playwright and director Luis Valdez, he added, "Wouldn't you like to see a revival of 'The Iceman Cometh' with Eugene O'Neill directing?"

Following the play, many joined Valdez; the play’s El Pachuco, Demian Bichir; and other cast members at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for a chance to chat while the Ragsdale Quartet, featuring Alexis de la Rocha in her bright pink zoot suit, serenaded the crowd.

Here are six bits of conversations you might have heard had you been there.

From left: Heidi Balvanera and Jaime Camil and Justina Machado at the opening performance of "Zoot Suit" at Mark Taper Forum on Feb. 12.
From left: Heidi Balvanera and Jaime Camil and Justina Machado at the opening performance of "Zoot Suit" at Mark Taper Forum on Feb. 12. (Ryan Miller / Capture Imaging)

1. "The timing could not be more perfect," said Bichir, an Oscar-nominated actor, after greeting brother Bruno Bichir ("Narcos") and mother, telenovela actress Maricruz Nájera, at the party. "I do believe in the power of theater not only to reach higher levels of art but also to make a point. … Look at what's happening all around. They've set the clock back 60 years, and if we don't pay attention, we can go back to the Middle Ages."

2. "We've now gotten to the point where, with this new [Trump] administration, we are looking at probably some of the most difficult times we are going to see," said Olmos, the play's original El Pachuco. "Things are worse in respect to the attitude toward [Latinos]. We've never had a president who called us rapists, drug dealers."

3. "It's really staggering how politically relevant this is," said Cryer. "This play manages to tread a balance between actually having something to contribute to the national conversation and still be incredibly entertaining."

From left, cast member Michael Naydoe Pinedo, assistant choreographer Reina Hidalgo and cast members Richard Steinmetz and Gilbert Saldivar. At right, cast member Mariela Arteaga, choreographer Maria Torres and cast members Kimberlee Kidd and Holly Hyman at "Zoot Suit."
From left, cast member Michael Naydoe Pinedo, assistant choreographer Reina Hidalgo and cast members Richard Steinmetz and Gilbert Saldivar. At right, cast member Mariela Arteaga, choreographer Maria Torres and cast members Kimberlee Kidd and Holly Hyman at "Zoot Suit." (Ryan Miller / Capture Imaging)

4. "One of my questions about producing the show was whether or not it would live up to its mythology," said Center Theatre Group's artistic director Michael Ritchie. "It's such a well-respected play that I wanted to be sure it was as fresh today as it was in 1978, and clearly the audiences have responded."

5. "Mythical is the right word," said a zoot-suited Dan Guerrero, whose father Lalo Guerrero composed the songs. In eye-popping red from his feathered fedora to full-legged, high-waisted trousers, he continued, "And here's the amazing thing; it is actually more relevant today with all that's going on."

6. And yet the mood was far from gloom and doom. Addressing those who might feel society hasn't progressed since the 1940s, Villaraigosa said, "My response is 'We've progressed.' There's no question we've progressed. But we have to be vigilant."

Ellen Olivier is the founder of SocietyNewsLA.

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