LONG BEACH, Calif. – Playwright, poet and journalist David Trujillo just enjoyed a three-performance trial run of his new play The legacy of a garage bandco-written with his multi-talented son, David Reyes, who also directed the one-act play and is its undisputed star actor on a cast of four.
Community Professionals premiered the piece Feb. 11-13 at the Long Beach Playhouse.
In many ways Heritage is a coming of age story. Young people from the 1980s Chicano community – two guys and two girls – formed a garage band they call “Los Wild Ones”, a tribute to their ethnic origins as much as to their spirit of creativity and rebellion at post-adolescent pain. Shortly after finding some local success, they seem to have a chance at being represented by a major talent agency and a national tour sponsored by a cutting-edge rock ‘n roll radio station.
But success in the music industry, like anywhere else, is an elusive beast to be grasped, fraught with danger, disappointment, and unexpected turns. No wonder it’s the theme of so many classic American novels.
Los Wild Ones consists of three intertwined performers – CJ, the guitarist, band leader and most intensely lyrical writer (Rey Torres); Ryan, the drummer (Andrea Ramos); and lead singer Shade (David Reyes), known to fans as an almost maniacal possessed performer on stage whose larger-than-life personality draws a loyal following. Bonded together not only by their love for music, they also share a deep-rooted history of mutual support. An incident from their past is a car accident that could have been fatal had it not been for a few heroic gestures.
So what happens when one leg of this sturdy three-legged stool begins to disintegrate? Shade begins to miss rehearsals and show up late for performances. It’s clear to all but himself that his drug addiction is getting the better of him. Much of the play’s content has to do with how a circle of friends support a falling comrade without abandoning the very project they have mutually committed to. Too much indulgence will lead to an inevitable accident. Yet dismissing it too hastily will require its immediate replacement.
Either way, a strong attachment will be shattered, responsibility will be lost, and the musical tone will change with newcomer to the group, CJ’s sister Dee (Veronica Lopez), whose affect is far from angry. lasts from Shade but closer to folk music. At that point, will the quartet of old friends stop supporting each other? Will their musical bond be broken? Will the larger world simply continue to move forward on its axis, leaving the once shining promise of the Los Wild Ones far, far behind like a youthful passion, their music lost forever? Do people only have one chance to grow?
And what life lessons will be learned? What will be the historical legacy of the band – remembered by some fans from that distant time perhaps – but more importantly, the emotional legacy of these individuals?
Asking this set of questions focused on the characters in his material is a step in a new direction for the playwright, whose latest play, Many May Not Return, took a different, somewhat more didactic approach to the effect of war. and military service on a multi-generational Latino family from Central Valley California.
A one-act play, compared to a more complete evening, is like a short story compared to a novel in that the space is not always provided to probe more sensitively motivations, relationships, the past , the character, the context. In this case, Trujillo and Reyes’ attention is pinned so tightly on the two men, with the two female characters in essentially supporting roles, that there’s no time or magnitude to connect the story. action to the larger context of Chicano life at that time, to trends in community development, schooling, politics. As far as I remember, no one ever instinctively sang a ballad or a popular ranchera at that time. That said, the soundtrack that helps transition from scene to scene reflects the music of its time and is well chosen.
But in this format, still, it is enough. We care about these youngsters and we understand why Shade seeks so much fan approval, to make up for what he may have been lacking at home. And we understand why it’s so tricky to know what misconduct to tolerate from your friends, and when is the right time to stop allowing it. Yet, in the end, what was once a lively musical group inescapably morphed into a therapy group requiring energetic intervention in the garage that, for Shade, had ultimately become “the only place I’m safe.”
Applause is deserved all around, but it’s hard not to single out Reyes in his multiple missions. He is particularly effective in the difficult role of an over-the-top, hyperactive, violence-prone, drug-addicted hard rock musician. As CJ, Torres also exhibits great youthful physique, moving like an instinctive boxer. Both women have paler profiles – both in the script and in this performance – perhaps indicative of the male chauvinism marking the era, although Ryan, the group’s only college-educated musician, has a good turn. alone when she recounts her abuse. queuing in front of a taco stand.
The grungy set provides the perfect vibe. Marisa Trujillo created the funky costumes, and Gabriel Trujillo’s lighting and sound design are excellent. (This production is clearly a family affair!) Although there is no physical garage door, the actors enter with appropriate gestures, mimetically lifting the wide door to the perfectly coordinated creaking sound effect. The set remains static for about a minute as the light plays the passage of time until the final scene after the newly formed group’s first performance. The characters’ use of cell phones may not have been entirely appropriate for the times, but again, with only the most cursory suggestions as to the era, the fact is that such history is, in fact, timeless.