Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Trio Los Machos: Un Bolero Infinito...

Trio Los Machos opens with the bristling demise of a musical trio, three life-long friends who are being summarily dismissed from their regular gig as entertainers in a Mexican restaurant where they have plied their trade as strolling balladeers for years. Written by Josefina López (Real Women Have Curves) and directed by Edward Padilla at Casa 0101, the play is a warm tribute to the stellar musical repertory of legendary Trio Los Panchos, Mexico’s famous bolero kings. A romantic musical genre that is to love and heartbreak what salt is to savory food and seawater, the bolero, as typified by Trio Los Panchos, is one of Mexico best, if not most well-known exports.

From 1942 to 1964, the Bracero guest worker program brought thousands of agricultural laborers from Mexico to the U.S. to harvest crops which would have otherwise rotted in the field due to the limited supply of U.S. workers willing to work so hard for so little. Trio Los Machos uses popular songs by Trio Los Panchos, as well as original tunes written by Claudia Durán (also Rosario in the play) and Josefina López with music by Danny Weinstein, to propel the story of Lalo, Nacho and Paco, three young braceros who discover their talent for making people fall in love through song and are thus able to leave the indignity of their guest worker status behind.
Now in their twilight years, the trio must come to terms with mortality, masculinity and changing musical tastes. Played by Miguel Santana, Roberto Garza and Henry Madrid respectively, the three are portrayed in moving flashbacks often graced with musical elegance by Gilbert Martinez (Young Lalo), Josh Durón (Young Nacho) and Adrian Quiñonez (Young Paco). While the characterizations among the actors who play the three in their latter day incarnations are marked by better musicianship than acting chops, the reverse is true for the trio as young men. On the whole, however, Padilla is to be commended for his impeccable casting and for his luminous staging, which relies on silhouettes and scrims as much as it does on the ever-present live music fusillade to evoke mood, feeling tone and memory.

Durán, as the fiery, sex-pot singer hired to jazz up the trio after they’re fired for being too old, is played perhaps a bit too much as caricature, but this is countered by the appearance, in flashback, of Rocío Mendoza as Aurelia, Paco’s long deceased wife. With a voice that captures the essence of this timeless music perfectly, Mendoza delivers the play’s truest notes. It is a sound that brims with late night trysts, love hangovers, too many cigarettes and not enough tear-filled tequila shots. It also provides the perfect foil for the comedic twist that gives the story an endearing, if unexpected, jolt of tender, and, yes, politically correct sensitivity.

A world premiere, Trio Los Machos is a reminder of the truly great state of theater on LA’s Eastside under the watchful care of award-winning playwright Josefina López, whose own father first came to the U.S. as a “bracero.” It is a fitting homage to him.

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