A Mexican Trilogy: Faith, Hope and Charity

by Dale Reynolds

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday September 30, 2016

A Mexican Trilogy: Faith, Hope and Charity

After a total of five years in the making, Evelina Fernández' "A Mexican Trilogy; An American Story," three of her full-length plays, have been given a two-night singular presentation or an all-day showing.

Directed by her husband, the gifted José-Luis Valenzuela, this epic series of tales about one Mexican-American family has depth, emotion, and intelligence going for it in how it explores the how and why that immigration has contributed to helping the U.S. of A. become a powerful nation.

Neither dwelling on nor ignoring how racism and NIMBYism has hurt all minorities racial, religious, sexual in our country's growth, in Fernández' imagination, la familia is the rock that sustains their survival. "Faith" takes place during WWII, after the elders have arrived in the States during the 1910-20 second Mexican Revolution.

The three plays are named after the daughters we meet in 1915, then more substantially in 1940-44 in Jerome, Arizona: Faith, Hope and Charity (Fe, Esperanza, and Caridad in Spanish). The play opens with great-grandmother, Old Esperanza (Lucy Rodriguez), in her attic bedroom, laying out the general history of the family.

We then meet young Faith (Esperanza America) and the young priest, Silvestre (Kenneth Miles Ellington Lopez), she marries (which also contributes to why they had to flee Mexico), as well as the two young men who are enamored of the sisters, Freddie (Julio Macias), and Charlie (Xavi Moreno). With the daughters caught between the new freedom women were discovering during the war and their traditional Catholic upbringing, it isn't easy.

But Ricardo Flores (Geoffrey Rivas), an older music entrepreneur, wants to make Faith a singer, which her hide-bound parents forbid. That's a mistake, as youth will almost always explore a future separate from others' past. And Silvestre (Sal Lopez) is a coal miner, trying to unionize his mine.

In "Hope," set in Phoenix, AZ, from 1960-63, we learn about how the Cuban Missile Crisis and JFK's assassination contribute to a doomed-mentality about how nuclear war will wipe out their future. So we meet some of the young men who want to date the daughters, only two of whom still live at home. Gina (America), Betty (Olivia Cristina Delgado), and Elena (Ella Saldaña North) are all too often at war with their parents, but will have husbands and children in the Catholic tradition.

In "Charity," set in Los Angeles in 2005, just after the passing of Pope John Paul II, the grandkids, totally assimilated into the main culture, have to accept they are back with elderly Esperanza (Rodriguez), with one of the grandsons, Bobby (Rivas), now a middle-aged gay man, who helps out a Mexican cousin, Juan Francisco (Xavi Moreno), by paying him to work in his hair salon.

Obviously, the full plot is much more detailed (allowing for some confusion by the third play), most of it intriguing, especially the "magical realism" in Old Esperanza's upstairs room: does she see the ghosts of her dead Silvestre, or her grown grandson, Emiliano (Sam Golzari) killed in Iraq? Or are they significant figments of her imagination? Any interpretation will depend on one's religious beliefs.

On Francois-Pierre Couture's superb two-level set, the three parts play out quickly amid minimal confusion. The actors (including Robert Beltran as grown-up Rudy in the third play) give it their all. But what glues all of the three plays together is the use of music: 1940s pop songs in "Faith," the bubble-gum songs of the '60s, and to a lesser amount, the rock of the early 21st Century.

The women singers are truly standouts here, with America having the strongest solo voice, ably backed up by Delgado and Esperanza. Such crystalline sounds, helped no doubt by the musical direction of Rosino Serrano and the choreography and movement direction of Urbanie Lucero, keep the entertainment side very much alive.

The five hours of the totality could use another writing swipe to clarify the relationships, considering all three plays use different actors for the earlier characters. It's an exhausting production, but one that brought tears to this jaded critic by the end. Family, in all its convoluted complications, is almost always worthy of close attention.

"A Mexican Trilogy (Faith, Hope, Charity); An American Story," plays through Oct. 9 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street, Downtown Los Angeles. For tickets or information, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.thelatc.org.