Playwright José Cruz Gonz´lez grew up inside stories. His grandfather -- a laborer from Mexico who moved wherever the work was, from Arizona to Southern California -- told tales and riddles to help soften the hard realities of life in the United States. That legacy of imagination extends beautifully into September Shoes, Gonz´lez's moving, dreamy meditation on the past, loss, memory, forgiveness and the emotional complexity of the concept of home. The play, which opens this week at the Ricketson Theatre, follows Albert and Gail Cervantes as they attempt to return to their home town of Dolores. The town's name means "sorrow" in Spanish, and in a series of haunting encounters, the characters reveal the role the word plays in their lives. They also discover how connected they are to one another.
"It deals with a very American story, and a very Mexican-American story: How do we deal with our cultural heritage and with personal past tragedy?" muses Kent Thompson, new artistic director of the Denver Center Theatre Company. "How do we face the past, acknowledge who we are and where we come from? Without that, we will never fully realize our future."
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September Shoes was partly inspired by Gonzalez's childhood experiences with family on both sides of the border -- a point of view that the playwright has worked hard to bring to light. In the mid-'80s, he sought out new Latino voices as the director of the Hispanic Playwrights Project for the South Coast Repertory in Orange County. By the late '90s, it was Gonz´lez's voice that was being heard, with a string of celebrated plays for both adults and children; September Shoes premiered in New York in 2003. For its Denver run, the play underwent a creative reshaping at the hands of Gonz´lez, director Amy Gonzalez (no relation) and Thompson, who says September Shoes reflects his plan to bring more culturally inclusive new works to the center's stages.
October 20-December 17, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, $39-$50, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org
"It's a remarkable play by a leading Mexican-American playwright, directed by a gifted Latina director," Thompson says. "You're seeing the new DCTC: a Latino play directed by a woman."