Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
Through December 6
Writer Cris Franco was a year old when his Mexican-born father brought his family from a small town in Mexico to South Central Los Angeles. As a young boy Cris thrived there until the age of 10. Then his Dad, a skilled mechanic with a booming business, grew tired of commuting to and from the San Fernando Valley and relocated his wife and kids to the White cultural wasteland we know as Granada Hills.
Franco’s 80 minute-long chronicle about growing up Hispanic in Los Angeles is performed by Ric Salinis, a veteran of the performance troupe Culture Clash, recognized for its incisive social satire and bittersweet portrayal of the Chicano experience. The show is directed by Valerie Dunlap.
At the core of the story is a 1957 blue-and-white Chevrolet that Franco’s Dad saved his pennies for and finally purchased. it was a glorious symbol of his success and when, as a legal immigrant, he arrived at the border with a wife, three daughters and a baby son, even the border guard took congratulatory note.
Immigrant stories are often family stories, where the tug of war between generations intensifies as young people adapt to a culture alien to their parents. In Franco’s case the war was more a skirmish; his father hammered away at the importance of a strong work ethic – studying hard to become a doctor or lawyer or (worst case scenario) engineer – while his son coped with his pariah status as the only Mexican in his class.
But while 57 Chevy has things to say about immigrants, racism and the American way of life, in the end it’s mostly about fathers and sons. The play is Franco’s paean to his Dad, a man from a dirt-poor background who grasped for – and got – the American middle-class dream.
Salinas, a versatile talent who’s built his career lending voice to the Hispanic community, is suited to the role. The performance I saw, though, was uneven. Some of the first- person accounts from Franco’s childhood were delivered with distance and hesitation. In other words, I wasn’t fully convinced that the storyteller -Salinas – was spinning his own tales. (Of course I knew he wasn’t from the program – but I wanted to believe that he was.).
Later, in the second half of this intermission-less piece, the production coalesced. Salinas found his groove. And then came the show’s final larger-than-life video image, flashed on the rear wall. It was a close-up of Dinah Shore singing,”See the U.S.A, in your Chevrolet” – and it evoked nostalgia for a grander and gentler mid-20th century America that now is history.
Latino Theater Company at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., in The Gallery, downtown; Thurs.–Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Dec. 6. (866) 811-4111; www.thelatc.org. Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission.