Sonora Valderama wore her hair in a bun at her graduation from San Diego State University—maybe that was a concession to the clock on that fateful day, when she became first in her family over several generations to obtain a degree. Actually, two degrees. She took a double major. And she was class valedictorian. And she's on her way to hoity-toity Stanford Law School. No wonder her hair was up and out of the way. With a plate that full, she probably hadn't washed it since high school.
She'd be first to admit that all that drive was a product of her dad's absence through her mid-teens and early 20s. That's part of the set-up for Sweet 15—Quinceañera, the good current San Diego Repertory Theatre entry. Eddy, an absentee from his National City home since Sonora's 15th birthday, has been shadily making a killing in Mexican land deals the last 10 years, long enough for everybody to have given him up for dead. He's back now, hat in hand, seeking amends with those who matter most. And he's determined that part of his fortune will cover the quinceañera Sonora never had—never mind that it's a decade after the fact.
The quinceañera is a big-time cultural event in many Spanish-speaking regions. It marks a young woman's 15th birthday, and it's celebrated with the same import that distinguishes Judaism's bat-mitzvah for 12-year-old girls. But this one's about to take several turns. Nobody's exactly ready to bury the hatchet, especially Sonora (a game Nina Brissey), except maybe in Eddy's skull. And twitty major domo El Jefe (Jose Yenque), who's supposedly arranging the affair, will gamble the bankroll away, leaving the party a hopeless knock-off of the original concept. A dinosaur pop star and costumes out of Barnum & Bailey dot the evening, which almost ends in Eddy's death at the hands of a groaty hired gun.
As directed by Sam Woodhouse, the festival is a tinny, overemotional clownfest—and maybe acclaimed San Diego playwright Rick Najera (who also plays Eddy) wanted it that way. None of Eddy's money, Najera says, is worth a plugged peso against the riches he lost the day he left his peeps. The problem is that that sentiment is lost in Woodhouse's vaudevillian spectacle, which almost caricaturizes the life lesson about money and its role in personal happiness. And Najera's performance as Eddy could use an ever-so-slightly smoother edge. He's got Eddy's bravado down, but sometimes, Eddy's a little too whiny amid everybody's hard line against him. That's a quality he, as a penitent, can ill-afford.
But this is a fun, well-conceived high-action piece, with plot fragments merging seamlessly into the main story. Listen to everybody's intonations, too, which Woodhouse uses to advantage. There's a wonderful disparateness to the actors' voices, all the more effective since their owners harbor such uniform disgust toward Eddy at first. They'll retain that vocal quality even as things smooth over in the Valderama family. Meanwhile, the Rep's hard at it, with another entry designed to mark its self-described position as San Diego's cultural town hall. This review is based on the opening-night performance of Nov. 28. Sweet 15—Quinceañera runs through Dec. 16 at The Lyceum mainstage, 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown. $35-$45. 619-544-1000 or www.sandiegorep.com.
Business as usual
The New York stagehands strike, which steeped 24 Broadway theaters in darkness for 19 days, ended Thursday, Nov. 29, the way it was supposed to—quickly and in relative decency. The problem is that the incident became part of a precipitous drama itself, the kind that routinely governs Broadway's conduct to boot.
The 3,000-member Local I labor union and the League of American Theatres and Producers have a new contract on personnel requirements for show set-up. While they were hammering it out, the city was losing $2 million a day in ticket sales and other theater-related revenues, and Broadway was crying about its diminished chances for its first billion-dollar gate receipt season. Yet year after year, Broadway—a cloying, demented old lady amid its quest for tourist dollars and safe, politically correct, brand-name commercial and musical art—can't seem to find adequate fund pools to support fresh new voices, whose grit and dash so eagerly reflect life beyond the sweep of the ivory baton. You figure it out. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.