This Is a Man’s World
Reviewed by Bob Verini
Latino Theatre Co. at the Los Angeles Theatre Center
Through June 21
This Is a Man’s World, at the L.A. Theatre Center, begins with actor/writer Sal Lopez rearing up on a hospital bed to cry out in confused panic, “How did I get here? How did I get here?” Which, when you come to think of it, can hardly be bettered as a line kicking off an evening of personal reminiscence. His trim, lithe build belying his 60 years, clad in a simple red pullover and jeans, Lopez starts talking about his South Central L.A. youth and works his way forward as if to forge an answer to his rhetorical question, which, if we’re introspective, we recognize as our own rhetorical question as well.
In an acting career spanning some 35 years, Lopez has hobnobbed with the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Dolly Parton, Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez, but you won’t hear any inside filmmaking anecdotes or gossipy dish here. No sense of his career at all, in fact. His topics couldn’t be more mundane, which is to say universal: Bonding with brothers. Coping with and accepting parents. First car. First love. First time. Fatherhood and a new generation of parenting. All the stuff, in short, that comprises the average man’s world.
The very ordinariness of the agenda means that Lopez’s tales had better be imaginatively performed or intriguingly specific, and virtually everything in this play scores on both counts. Lopez is facile at shape-shifting – he’s no Rich Little mimic, but adept at quickly sketching in multiple characters with a slight change of voice or manner: Papa in his prime versus in his dotage; first crush Gloria melting the heart with a slow head turn and hair toss. This ability, effortlessly wielded, serves to create the pleasing impression of a polyphonic chorus rather than of one guy chipping away at his past for an hour.
For his part, director Jose Luis Valenzuela makes at least two invaluable contributions: orchestrating a delicate, expressive score of lights, sound, and projections in support (I especially admired the black-and-white smoke footage bathing the stage during Sal’s dad’s passing), and granting his actor the license to take his time when the occasion warrants.
As for completeness of detail, we come to learn that the hospital framing device relates to a blackout suffered while working out at Bally’s, diagnosed as “transient global amnesia.” That amnesia was clearly transient indeed, because Lopez recalls his life’s incidents with acute imagery and insight, both his thoughts at that moment and their meaning years later. When he and an older brother bring down a local bully, his pride is immediately mixed with guilt that the victim, sent off bloody and in tears, was double-teamed. There’s a different sort of present-day pride when Sal reports his brother’s next words: “Next time, I’m gonna take him myself.”
When their furious dad plans to take revenge on a local bartender for some slight, Sal talks him down with a few simple words: “Papa, this is not the example you set for us.” You can’t help wondering how much other rage in the world might be ratcheted down by a simple reminder that one’s fundamental moral responsibility in this life is to set a good example for others. Sal Lopez’s family is lucky in his hyperawareness of each ordinary individual’s crucial role in our human community, and now those who attend his autobiographical event can be lucky too.
Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 21. (866) 811-4111, www.thelatc.org