For this ambitious production, Su Teatro artistic director Anthony J. Garcia has transposed the story of Orpheus and Eurydice to modern-day Mexico, intertwining it with contemporary politics and elements of Aztec myth and adding music by composer Daniel Valdez. It's a fascinating concept, and parts of it work well, but there are sections that seem flat or obvious.
In El Sol Que Tú Eres/The Sun That You Are, the Lord of the Underworld is an evil druglord named Narciso, and hell itself his lair. The setting allows for some well-placed political jabs at corporate heads, university presidents, lawyers and the United Fruit Company. There's also a comment about the hellish nature of the School of the Americas, where activists say that murder and torture are taught along with legitimate counterinsurgency tactics. Into Narciso's mountaintop lair stumbles a gaggle of young North American women, students on some kind of field trip, full of romantic visions about Mexico and anxious to find guerrilla hideouts. (Narciso responds to this with a crack about Dian Fossey.) Among these students is the beautiful Chicana, Rudi.
Eventually, Rudi meets Orfeo, a peasant, and the two fall in love. But Narciso interrupts their wedding and steals away the bride, and Orfeo must go to the underworld to retrieve her. He is assisted by his wise Tia, and the two of them encounter several of the obstacles that the Aztecs believed faced all souls on their journey to the place of the dead.
Su Teatro's roots are in agitprop; many of their pieces represent a call for community unity and action. In El Sol, Garcia is attempting to marry that style with mythic exploration and a moving, contemporary love story, and sometimes the juxtapositions are forced or unconvincing. Rudi and Orfeo are the most developed characters in the play. She's a cheeky girl who likes to curse; he's a farm boy, but more wise and worldly than he appears at first. Some of the scenes between them are charming. But the plotting is perfunctory: Why would Rudi steal drugs and money from Narciso? Orfeo might be a somewhat realistic character, but his parents are described as so saintly, so purely and simply loving as to be completely unbelievable. His father refused to engage in the drug trade with Narciso, we're told, not so much because he disapproved of it as because it would diminish the time he had with Orfeo's mother. A lot of the dialogue feels simplistic, in particular the portentous statements of Rudi and Narciso about love and the ultimate meaning of life, and some scenes -- such as the temptation of Orfeo as he tries to return to the world with his Rudi -- go on far too long.
The visual and mythic aspects of this production work best. Michael Bautista has created an evocative set in swirling shades of green, gold and black, on which the choral scenes -- with their ritualized movement, candles and huge, sun-colored flowers -- work beautifully. Much of the music feels derivative, however. The two best pieces are traditional Mexican songs.
Elizabeth Botello, who plays Rudi, is very beautiful and has a bright, clear speaking voice. She and Hugo Carbajal as Orfeo make a charming couple. Hannah Franklin is excellent as Rudi's friend, Annie, and Aaron Vieyra's Hector livens things up every time he enters. Jesse Ogas is imposing as Narciso, and Yolanda Ortega is a warm Tia.
With more original music and a stronger focus and sharpness to the writing, this could be a first-rate theater piece.
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