Theater review: ‘La Victima’ at the Los Angeles Theatre Center
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To celebrate its 25th anniversary, L.A.’s Latino Theater Company has returned to its roots with a revival of its inaugural production, “La Victima.”
Back in 1987, mainstream audiences had little notion of the devastation inflicted on the Mexican American community by the United States’ capricious immigration laws: the generations exploited for cheap labor, then unceremoniously deported in leaner times; the Mexican American citizens co-opted to hunt down and expel their “illegal” former countrymen.
“La Victima” exposed theatergoers to this shameful history through the saga of the Villa family, from the 1930s, when young Amparo immigrates into America with her parents, to the 1970s, when, in one of those theatrical coincidences that should probably read more symbolically than literally, she is deported by her own long-lost son.
Although the subject matter remains dishearteningly pertinent, stylistically “La Victima,” written by El Teatro de la Esperanza in 1976, approaches its material with the polemical gusto of its era’s social-studies filmstrips. Before each scene, the cast recites, in unison, a summary of the relevant history, and a singer/narrator fills in the missing plot points with a ballad. The dialogue in the family scenes can be tender and witty, but the briefly sketched characters are often flattened by the metaphorical weight they’re obliged to support.
That this production feels so fresh, therefore, is a credit to the affectionate, low-key, but playful guidance of director and LTC founder Jose Luis Valenzuela, who also directed the 1987 version, and the performances of his multigenerational ensemble. The cast members move fluidly between Spanish and English (in either case, a translation is projected behind them). Standouts include the young actresses Alexis de la Rocha and Olivia Cristina Delgado, and the veteran Lupe Ontiveros, who take turns depicting the Villa women as they age, conveying the transformation of their hope and vivacity into beleaguered endurance.
The extraordinary score, composed and performed by the underground rock duo Cita and Ricardo Ochoa, is itself worth the ticket. With a flamenco dress, a red flower ornament on her shaved head, and a throbbing alto voice, Cita could be a Brechtian cabaret singer’s idea of a Mexican señorita. Her performance perfectly captures the vibrant, resilient spirit that comes through “La Victima,” in noncompliance with its defeatist title.
-- Margaret Gray
“La Victima.” Los Angeles Theater Centre, 514 S. Spring Street, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Dark Oct. 9. Ends Oct. 31. $35; $20 for seniors 60+ and students with ID; $10 on Thursdays. (866) 811-4111. www.thelatc.org. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.