April 15, 2005
As a showcase for the Luckman Fine Arts Complex's well-appointed new Intimate Theatre, "They Shoot Mexicans, Don't They?" is a veritable multimedia smorgasbord, with exquisite live music by Quetzal Flores' five-piece band, original black-and-white film clips and loving simulations by Isaac and Judith Artenstein, sinuous dances choreographed by Francisco Martinez and Jose Lopez's gorgeous lighting designs across Victoria Petrovich's movable set pieces.
As theater, though, "They Shoot Mexicans" is scattered and flimsy. Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo's text ostensibly sets out to interrogate early Hollywood's simplified representations of California's rich Mexican past, and of exotic "Latins" in general, from Rudolph Valentino to Dolores Del Rio. A sarcastic film historian (Portillo) is on hand to help us notice and deplore the mile-wide screen stereotypes in some tantalizing vintage footage.
The critique doesn't go much deeper than that, alas. In the play's main story, set in the 1920s, a well-meaning Anglo producer (Michael Manuel) turns up at the Ramirez Dance Studio, eager to make a film of "The Mission Play," the troupe's long-running hagiography of Father Junipero Serra. Is this the chance choreographer Paul (Manuel) has been waiting for, to liven up the steps his Maestra (Ramirez) insists must remain unchanged for all time? Is it the big break for bubbly, movie-mad young Gloria (Portillo)?
It's hard to care, given the production's low dramatic stakes, long musical interludes and the creaky two-actor conceit, handled indifferently by director Chavez. What's the point of using multimedia with a message as flat as a textbook?
"They Shoot Mexicans, Don't They?" About Productions at the Luckman Intimate Theatre, Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Cal State L.A. 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. Ends Saturday. $40. (323) 343-6600. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.