Stockholm – Film Review

Stockholm Syndrome is a term coined by newspapers reporting on the conclusions made by a Swedish criminologist and psychiatrist on an event that occurred in the early seventies. The name given to the peculiar condition was Norrmalmstorgssyndromet, something that would clearly prove unpronounceable to the majority of English speaking readers. To make things easier, a new term was created, one that was based upon the name of the country’s capital where the condition first considered.

In 1973 a Swedish convict who was on parole walked into a bank in Stockholm, held four people hostage, demanded money and the release of a friend from prison, and negotiated with police for six days before being captured. The curious thing was the behavior of the hostages: none would testify against their captor in case it jeopardized his defense. In fact, they even began to raise money to help him pay for court costs.

In the new comic drama Stockholm from writer/director Robert Budreau, the attempted robbery is recreated (emphasis on the comic) beginning with the title ‘Based On An Absurd But True Story which somehow feels like a tip-off that what you’re about to watch isn’t exactly going to be the truth. It’s reminiscent of the opening title to Paul Newman’s The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972) that read: Maybe This Isn’t The Way It Was – It’s The Way It Should Have Been.

Ethan Hawke plays Lars Nystrom, a foolhardy thief, born in Sweden but raised in America. He dons a wig, leather jacket, and a cool pair of seventies shades, and enters a bank to the sound of Bob Dylan on the soundtrack singing, “This must be the day all my dreams come true.

After turning on some music from his portable transistor and declaring to himself, “And the party has begun,” he fires his weapon into the air and clumsily takes control of the bank. “Tie her up,” he orders one of the bank employees, “And don’t give me those eyes.

Nystrom’s demands are simple. He wants one million dollars and the release of a prisoner called Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong) or he’ll start killing hostages. Thinking he’s dealing with someone from the U.S., Chief of Police Mattsson (Christopher Heyerdahl) states, “Love these Americans. Why can’t they just stay home?”

As events humorously unfold – Nystrom and Sorensson want their getaway car to be the same model as the one Steve McQueen drove in The Getaway because they loved that movie – the four remaining hostages, lead principally by Noomi Rapace as Bianca Lind, kind of like the two guys. “Do you trust them?” asks a TV interviewer who snags an exclusive call with the teller during the few days while everyone is holed up in the bank. “More than we trust the police,” she replies.

Events shown are not quite as they occurred, which is regular practice for a writer when recreating a real event in order to make things more cinematic. As often said, real life doesn’t always lend itself to good storytelling. But for whatever reason, all the names of the characters, with the exception of the Swedish Prime Minister, have also been changed, even though the name of the bank, the Kreditbanken in Stockholm, remains the same. For the record, there’s now a clothing store where the bank used to stand.

But it’s not the film’s narrative adjustments that create the problem, it’s the overall tone, bookended by scenes of a somber, reflective Repace sitting by a beach. “I can’t help thinking about what happened,” a voice-over narrates. “You fall for your captive, so they say.” By director Budreau beginning his film with that opening and circling back to the same setting once the story is over, he’s created moments that feel like outtakes inserted from a different film. They actually work against the movie. Plus, by showing the character of the bank teller at the opening, the introductory moment becomes the film’s own major plot spoiler. When Hawke’s bank robber unintentionally shoots the woman in the back, leading us to believe in a shocking surprise that she’s possibly dead, we know she can’t be because we saw her at the beginning of the film on the beach reflecting back. Something as simple as removing the opening and close might have made Stockholm feel like a different movie.

You may read several reviewers write of the film with references to Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975). The comparisons are understandable, if not inevitable.  Both are fictionalized events of a real-life robbery and both have good humor, making the perpetrators likable to the point where you hope that they might just get away with it. But the Al Pacino comedy-drama had its laughs grounded in a sense of reality; a gravitas that the lightheartedness of Stockholm doesn’t quite possess.

Yet, even though by knowing what occurred in that bank during those few days didn’t quite happen in the way the film portrays things, Stockholm, as light and as uneven as it feels – the whole thing practically fizzles once done – undeniably engages. And at a brisk 92 minutes, it never outstays its welcome.

MPAA Rating: R       Length: 92 Minutes

Posted in Film

Stuck – Film Review

As New York City workers, tourists, and commuters go about their daily life, heading for the subway, gathering on an already crowded platform and eventually boarding their train, you can hear the sound of the orchestra warming up, readying for performance. “In the city’s underground,” sings Lloyd, the homeless guy (Giancarlo Esposito), “There’s a symphony of sound.”

Adapted from the stage musical of the same name, Stuck tells of six strangers unexpectedly stranded together for a while in an NYC subway. It began as a normal day, but once that train stalled in the middle of a tunnel, those six passengers, people who ordinarily wouldn’t even have noticed each other, find themselves forced to talk. “Everyone has a story,” Lloyd continues, singing as if he’s the train’s unofficial MC. Throughout the following sixty minutes plus, each of those six will tell theirs, some more willingly than others.

For those who live in an urban area and regularly ride the underground, you’ll know what it’s like to suddenly have the train stop. It’s frustrating, particularly when you have a deadline and everything hangs on your prompt arrival. Plus, when it’s underground, there’s nowhere to go. It’s not as if you can get off and walk. And from experience, you rarely know the reason. It could be a signal problem. Perhaps it’s an issue with the train in front resulting with everything behind having to grind to a halt. Whatever caused the situation, you’re rarely told; it just happens. And it frays nerves, which is what it does here.

Once Lloyd finishes using his area of the long, slim carriage as his personal bathroom – he freshens up, clips his toenails, brushes his teeth in full view of the other five – he gets the conversation rolling by doing what he presumably has to do above ground: he panhandles while quoting passages from Hamlet. “I’ll give you money if you stop it,” says budding comic book artist Caleb (Gerard Canonico).

In their way, the six passengers cover the city’s cultural makeup of race and class. In addition to Esposito’s homeless Lloyd and Canonico’s shy white guy Caleb, there’s singer/songwriter Ashanti as Eve, Arden Cho as the dancer of Korean heritage Alicia, Omar Chaparro as undocumented immigrant Ramon, and Amy Madigan as the sad and aging Sue. Through song, each will reveal their story, some with humor – Caleb’s comic book superhero comes alive with Magnificent Maggie – and some with heartache – Sue’s Gone reflecting the passing of her son is both heartfelt and genuinely affecting.

Shot widescreen by cinematographer Luke Gelssbuhler and well-framed throughout, though the six passengers are confined to a restricted area for the duration of their time together, the letterbox presentation allows the impression of space. They may feel cramped, but physically they’re far from each other so that when one character gets too close and angrily faces another, the illusion of personal space being invaded is all the more effective.

The pop/rock score, with styles that reflect the character singing it, is good, co-composed by Riley Thomas, Ben Maughan, and Tim Young with additional work by Ashanti who is given credit for her song Make It Better. The film, directed by Phoenix valley native Michael Berry who also directed the stage version at the New York Musical Theater Festival in 2012, sticks close to its theatrical counterpart but expands in areas that can only work on film.

When Sue sings of her loss, Stuck cuts back to moments of seeing her son by the piano (played by co-songwriter Tim Young) adding a level of poignancy that might have been absent from the play. Plus, when Ashanti performs Make It Better, the sequence with flashbacks reveals a full backstory of Eve’s current situation in the way a quality music video might, edited together with cinematic flair.

Particularly good is the climactic Try sung by the whole cast, where emotions rise and voices soar as certain realizations of personal truths never before considered now surface. Eventually, things will get moving again. The train will arrive, and the six passengers will finally get off at their various stops along the route, late for wherever they were supposed to be. Most will never see each other again. But having spent that time together stranded, there’s developed an emotional connection that will somehow resonate for each of them in ways that have yet to occur. Their lives have suddenly become that little bit richer for having met each other. And, as a consequence of seeing this slight but affecting short musical, so have ours.

MPAA Rating: PG-13    Length: 83 Minutes

Posted in Film

Peterloo – Film Review

On August 16, 1819, at a public square in Manchester, England known as St. Peter’s Field, upon the order of the local magistrates, with sabres drawn, a determined cavalry charged into a peaceful crowd of working-class protesters. It was a massacre. Numbers differ from report to report, but there were thought to be approximately 70,000 people in attendance, not only working men but also their wives and children. They had legally assembled to demand reform to unjust laws. Several were killed, more than 600 severely wounded. Several died later of their wounds. As an ironic contrast to the recent battle at Waterloo, the newspaper reporters who witnessed the carnage dubbed it Peterloo.

Up until the release of director Mike Leigh’s film, despite the event that is often described in Manchester as the city’s Tiananmen Square, most in other areas of England remained unaware of the details. Stateside, it’s safe to say that the average American hadn’t even heard of it. Which is presumably why director Leigh, who was brought up near Manchester’s city center with its history forever around him, felt the need to make his account of what happened meticulous and thoroughly detailed.

With a running length of a whopping 154 minutes, the charge itself and how it occurred is undeniably engrossing. You’ll feel the same kind of outrage that American audiences felt in 1970 when the cavalry attacked a peaceful Cheyenne village in Soldier Blue, also based on a real event. But before you get there, Peterloo indulges in more than two hours of heavy-loaded speech after speech, where the desperate lower-class locals gather and make their voices heard, one after another, after another, while those in power enjoying the perks of their privilege and station do what they can to suppress the “preposterous” requests for reform.

The gripes of the factory workers are certainly just. “One man, one vote!” they declare at a time when such a thing for a worker was denied. “Liberty or death,” was the rallying cry. With many starving and no other means of getting their point across, the families gather and talk. The men have their meetings. The women have theirs. The warranted gripes are heard, and heard again. Through conversations, Leigh’s script does well in explaining what the tariffs and trade restrictions of the unjust Corn Laws meant and why the legal suspension of Habeas Corpus affected the underclass without making things sound like too much of a lecture, but the points needed to be made are made in the first hour, and yet the workers keep gathering and they keep talking.

As a continual counterpoint to the speeches of the lower-class, the film cuts to the magistrates in power who shape and enforce the often unjust laws. Many locals are flogged or mercilessly banished to Australia for minor offenses, torn from their families. One man steals a coat and is ordered to be hanged. And when news of the Manchester area workers talking of wanting reform and be given fair representation in Parliament with the ability to vote, the authorities, never wanting to be one to give up their power, declare the meetings to be a sickness. “A rampant threat of insurrection,” they declare, adding, “They speak not of reform but of destruction.” Again, as with the desperate position of the unrepresented workers, the perspective of the authorities is already made – “We are their moral superiors!” – but the film, determined to cover all the facts, continues with more.

Much of Dick Pope’s cinematography is wonderfully composed, particularly the half-lit interior scenes, often resembling a style of framed oils of the day. It’s not attractive in the way that Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon made a colorful Gainsborough come to life, but with its light from window shadings, particularly when seeing the magistrates dressed in black, Peterloo can often look like a series of enactments from a Dutch master.

But with a large ensemble of faces and names that most will have difficulty in remembering – there’s no central figure to follow – director Leigh’s customary style of presenting nuanced modern-day characters is here substituted for strict adherence to recorded historical detail. There’s no emotionally charged dramatic embellishment to keep an audience engaged. While the speeches may contain passion, the film’s dry account of events and what lead to the massacre doesn’t. It may have been a torturous and frustrating long, slow walk to get to where those dissenting voices could be heard, but, unfortunately, so is the film.

MPAA Rating: PG-13             Length: 154 Minutes

Posted in Film

Tuck Everlasting – Theatre Review: Valley Youth Theatre, Phoenix

Here’s the question. Given the chance, would you take the opportunity to live forever? And if you did, would it be a blessing or a curse?

In the challenging new grand scale production of the Broadway musical Tuck Everlasting, now playing at Valley Youth Theatre until April 21, that’s the issue that will soon face eleven-year-old Winnie Foster (Lainey Kenly). As Winnie tells us in the opening song Live Like This, it’s the first day of August 1893, and the fair is coming to town. It’s the day she’s been waiting for. A chance to break free from the confines of her living room and to finally enjoy herself.

Though the young girl’s widowed mother (Jessica Fink) tends to restrict her daughter’s desires to get out in the world ever since her husband died a year earlier, Winnie feels it’s time to break free. “I’ve got a really bad case of being good,” the girl sings and runs into the nearby Wood to get to the fair.

But it’s here where she meets Jesse Tuck (Riley Thornton) as he takes a sip from a spring at the base of a tree. Just when Winnie goes to take a sip for herself, Jesse stops her for reasons she’ll soon discover. Jesse and his family have all drank from the water, but that was years ago. Many years ago, and now they’re immortal. They’ll live forever. While appearing 17, Jesse is actually 102.

Based on the hugely popular children’s novel by Natalie Babbit, the musical opened on Broadway in April 2016 and closed the following month after 39 performances, just 11 more than the previews. But the abrupt closure had less to do with the quality of the show and more to do with the 2016 Broadway choices; there was so much for New York and its visiting tourists to see. Compared to the line-up along the Great White Way, the family-friendly musical about an eleven-year-old was not as splashy or as spectacular as many of the other marquee-value names. As a consequence, the curtain fell. Had it appeared at a different time, there’s a good chance it might have survived for a longer run.

But the absence of splash and spectacle is hardly a drawback when the show itself can be so much fun. Though there are no hits, the score is pleasant, sung with outstanding voices from a cast 23 strong, and energetic choreography from Nathalie Velasquez; the climactic ballet sequence is especially delightful. Without the need for spending the majority of its budget on clever special effects, a quality production based mostly on a young cast’s talent is what gives VYT the chance to present such an ambitious musical and to deliver it as well as the company does here.

Director Bobb Cooper’s knack for finding new talent in the valley is once again on display, beginning with Lainey Kenly as Winnie in her first VYT production. At just fourteen years, she convincingly plays an eleven-year-old while displaying a talent beyond her years, leading you to think that maybe the performer herself has drunk from that magic water.

Also making an impression is Hayden Skaggs as the show’s principal villain known simply as Man in the Yellow Suit, the carnival barker who intends to steal the water and get rich by selling it in bottles if only he could find its location. It’s true that other than a banana, no one looks good in yellow. As Winnie’s grandma (Taylor Underwood) asks, “Where would you find a suit that color?” adding, “And why would you buy it?”

Another casting plus is how well older members of the cast playing the adults actually appear as adults. In addition to Parker Gates, amusing as Constable Joe, Jessica Fink as mother, and Taylor Underwood as Nana, particularly convincing are Jessica Wastchak and Noah Delgardo as Mae and Angus Tuck.

Though there are no special effects in the grand tradition of an Andrew Lloyd Webber production or the spectacle of a Les Miserables, VYT employed one notable piece of equipment installed specifically for Tuck Everlasting; a revolving stage. A last-minute hitch caused an opening night cancellation, and a further problem caused some last minute production alterations, but in the true spirit of the-show-must-go-on, as testament to the professionalism of the young cast, all adjusted and adapted well to the problem to the point where, I suspect, several audience members never even realized there was an issue.

Often, a show this size and one that appears this skilled supported by the creative use of effective set design and lighting would be worthy of an end of season presentation at Herberger Theater Center, something that several of VYT’s recent productions have accomplished. But being a part of the company’s regular lineup in the smaller North First Street Theatre underlines further what a landmark season VYT has presented during its 30th anniversary. And there’s still more to come. The Arizona premiere of Disney’s new musical Freaky Friday is just around the corner.

Tuck Everlasting continues at Valley Youth Theatre on N. 1st Street in Phoenix until April 21

Pictures courtesy of Memories by Candace

Posted in Theatre

Let The Right One In – Theatre Review: Stray Cat Theatre, Tempe Center for the Arts, Tempe

In the bleak mid-winter of a small town in Sweden, there’s a boy who lives with his mother. He’s bullied at school. On the outside, he appears calm, non-threatening, even sheepish. But looks can be deceiving. On the inside, anger rages. When no one is around, he stabs repeatedly at a tree with his knife, imagining revenge on those who taunt him.

In the same apartment block, next door is another teenager. As far as anyone can tell, for those whoever see her, she’s a girl and she lives with her father. She’s never around during the day and doesn’t go to the local school. And curiously, considering the freezing temperatures and the snow on the ground, she’s never quite dressed for the season; she doesn’t even wear shoes. But she looks harmless enough. But, then again, as with the boy next door, looks can be deceiving.

For the final production of its 2018-19 season, ever since it was first announced, anticipation has built for Stray Cat Theatre’s stage adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s vampire novel Let the Right One In, a title inspired by the 1992 Morrissey song Let the Right One Slip In. More than the book, most are presumably aware of the story through the excellent 2008 Swedish-language film, and to a degree through the 2010 American remake that shortened the title to simply Let Me In. That anticipation comes from wondering how can a live presentation recreate something that seemed so exclusively cinematic?

For the record, the film adaptation streamlined a lot of the heavy themes of the book. It centered less on alcoholism, pedophilia, genital mutilation and other topics explored with depth in the novel. Instead, it focused more on the relationship between the boy and his neighbor. Even the mysterious neighbor’s backstory that began more than 200 years earlier is left to something more ambiguous in the film. You never knew the details, but you got the idea. The play narrows events even further.

Scottish playwright Jack Thorne, who wrote the script for the National Theatre of Scotland, admits to never having seen the film or of reading the book until he was approached to write a stage adaptation. But by concentrating almost exclusively on the boy’s isolation, the school bullying, the dependent relationship with his divorced mother (Kathleen Berger), and the need of a real friend, the similarities between his situation and the teenager next door – she’s isolated, dependent on her father-figure ‘handler,’ and lonely – are made all the clearer. They need each other for reasons neither are initially aware.

I can’t be friends with you, just so you know,” says Eli (a well-cast Brittney Watson) to the boy, Oskar (Nathaniel Smith; admirable work after stepping in at the production’s eleventh hour) after their first encounter in the children’s playground outside of the apartments at night. “Sorry, that’s just how it is.” But things will have to change for Eli, and she knows it.

When we first meet Eli’s older, father-figure, a man called Hakan (an effective, world-weary performance from Duane Daniels) he has kidnapped an innocent passer-by in the nearby woods, ready to slice the unfortunate victim’s throat and harvest blood for the girl. But he’s forced to run when others approach. “You’re older, weaker. It isn’t your fault,” a starving Eli tells the man. “I try to love you as much as I can,” Hakan tells her, as if aware that the passing of time no longer allows him to deliver in the way he once did. “I don’t think that’s good enough anymore,” the ageless teenager responds.

Scenes are short, almost sketchy, enacted on Aaron Sheckler’s excellent scenic design that incorporates tree limbs from the woods, a child’s swing, the metallic jungle-gym of a children’s playground, an elevated platform that can act as both Oskar’s bedroom and the forum from which the school principal (Scott Hyder) can make important announcements – “Evil needs silence,” he tells the school after another gruesome murder in the district. “Don’t be silent.” – and even, in case you were wondering how it could possibly be done, the school swimming pool that climaxes the story.

Because of the brevity of each moment, director Ron May moves his cast at a brisk pace leaving you to continually wonder what’s happening next. With solid support from all technical areas, notably Dallas Robert Nichols’ atmospheric lighting, Mary Townsend’s creative bloodletting, and Peter Bish’s sound design – when Eli’s stomach growls the sound is both funny and threatening – the play succeeds as a live presentation in ways you may never have imagined.

In its moments of silence the production is effectually creepy; remarkable considering that what you’re watching is not the reality that film recreates but the heightened reality of something that, by default of a live performance, can only remain artificial. Yet disbelief is suspended throughout. There’s even a moment of genuine shock that will surprise.

Whether it’s because of the set’s neutral tone that sits somewhere in that gray area between black and white, the snow around the base of the trees and the jungle-gym, or the theatre’s a/c unit turned down a few extra degrees, there’s a definite chill felt throughout both the play’s two acts, which is exactly what the piece requires. Stray Cat has created its own Bleak House.

Let The Right One In continues at Tempe Center for the Arts, Tempe until May 4

Pictures Courtesy of John Groseclose

Posted in Theatre

American Mariachi – Theatre Review: Arizona Theatre Company, Herberger Theater Center, Phoenix

Talk to any experienced caregiver of a dementia or an Alzheimer’s patient and they’ll tell you; playing a piece of music can have an extraordinary effect, particularly if there’s a personal attachment to the recording. It can bring to the surface a deeply buried memory long considered forgotten. It happens all the time, and when it does, the moment can be quite astonishing.

In Arizona Theatre Company’s new Christopher Acebo directed production American Mariachi, now playing at Herberger Theater Center until April 21, that’s exactly what happens when Lucha Morales (Christen Celaya) and her boisterous best friend ‘Boli’ Pérez (Satya Jnani Chavez) play an old 45 on the turntable.

It’s the early 70’s somewhere in the southwest. Lucha’s mother, Amalia (Diana Burbano) suffers from dementia. For some time, the woman has remained unresponsive to questions or conversations, only occasionally breaking her silence to ask, “Where’s Carmen?” a reference to a woman who we learn had passed away some time ago. Yet, after going through several old albums and pulling out The Beatles, The Supremes, and even some Simon and Garfunkel to brighten up the afternoon, Lucha and Boli decide on an old single with a label that reads simply AM. Curious as to what it might be, they play the 45 on the family record player. It turns out to be a recording of a Mariachi band. But then something curious happens.

The mother stirs at the sound of the strumming guitars and trumpets. She recognizes the song. She knows the lyrics. She starts to sing. Both Lucha and Boli are thrilled. Something somehow has connected with mama. But unfortunately, the moment is short lived.

Lucha’s father, Federico (Danny Bolero) enters, hears the recording and immediately switches the record player off. Clearly, there’s a problem. Ignoring the positive effect that the single has just had on his wife, the father plays tug of war with his daughter, resulting in the 45 breaking in two.

The secret of the single and why the label reads AM will be revealed later. In the meantime, Lucha and Boli hit upon an idea. Why not recreate a new recording of that piece of music for her mother? Lucha’s dad, a musician in his own right, needn’t know. He wouldn’t approve, anyhow. Mariachi is for men. It’s long been a tradition handed down from father to son. There’s no room in Mariachi for women. Everyone knows that. “He’s so old school Mexican,” complains Boli. All the two girls need is a Mariachi band, an all-female Mariachi who can sing and play their own instruments. But they need to be found. Lucha and Boli start their search.

American Mariachi is not a musical in the traditional sense, but there’s plenty of good, often exhilarating music throughout. The play begins with the haunting sound of a violin. That’s Tia Carmen (Stephanie Swift Molina) who, under the right lights, appears on the courtyard balcony above in skeletal cadaverous form in the tradition of the Mexican culture of the Land of the Dead. The violin is a sound that mama Amalia often hears in her memory, prompting her to ask, “Where’s Carmen?

What’s effective in American Mariachi is how Lucha and Boli’s band of misfit women sound. None of the five ladies can play when they first sign up – “I got a kazoo,” says hairstylist Soyla (Marlene Montes) – but after some friendly instruction from old family friend Mino (Sol Castillo), the motley crew eventually band together. The play is not necessarily going for realism, but it is impressive how the ladies play as if they’ve only just learned their instruments rather than sounding suddenly perfect. Particularly amusing is how Osiris Cuen’s Gabby looks as though she might topple over at any moment once she’s assigned the large, deep-bodied acoustic bass guitarrón to hold.

However, what’s not quite so effective is the uneven style of comedy. There are laughs, several good ones, as when Cuen’s Gabby asks, “Do we have to wear those funny costumes?” Plus, the reaction of Lucha and Boli when hearing reserved choir singer Isabel (Alicia Coca) suddenly burst into an unrestrained ‘embellishment’ of musical notes by way of Mariah Carey is priceless. The lady can sing even if, curiously, she never gets to use that style of oversinging, known as ‘melisma,’ again.

But things have a tendency to go broad, cartoonishly so, as when Sol Castillo’s Padre Flores appears, or Eduardo Enrikez’s flamboyant René enters. The same with Diana Burbano’s Doña Lola when she pulls out her guns and waves them about in Soyla’s hairdressing salon. All of these moments appear as if the characters were culled from slapstick, over-the-top sketch comedy on Sabado Gigante. Audiences laugh but the style doesn’t play well, particularly when compared to the serious, humorless nature of Lucha’s father, a stubborn fool of a man whose inability to either listen or step out of himself and see anything from another perspective is at the root of all problems.

Written by José Cruz González, American Mariachi incorporates themes of family, tradition, respect for elders, and the clash of an old culture for the new, but at its heart lies the old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment formula of let’s-put-on-a-show, with outcomes most will know long before they occur. Exactly as expected, secrets will be revealed, conflicts between generations will be resolved, even the father will come to terms with change (though in reality, given the circumstances of his deeply rooted stubbornness and prejudices, through personal experience, I strongly doubt that would ever happen) and, against all odds and prejudices, the eventual acceptance of women playing Mariachi will occur. It did in real life. For the record, in 2009, the Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea was the first all-female Mariachi to be nominated and to win a Grammy Award.

But the play’s thoroughly conventional direction is not altogether a bad thing. The fun of American Mariachi presented with ATC’s expected level of high-production values is the 105-minute journey, as familiar as it all feels, not the outcome. And if the style of music was usually perceived as that trumpet noise played annoyingly loud while you were trying to eat at a Mexican restaurant, American Mariachi should alter attitudes. For a start, search for Maria Muldaur’s Gringo en Mexico on YouTube. It’ll now sound like bliss. If there’s anything you’ll draw from Gonzalez’s play it’s a change of perception. You’ll never hear those Mariachi arrangements in quite the same way again.

Pictures Courtesy of Tim Fuller

American Mariachi continues at Herberger Theater Center until April 21

Posted in Theatre