- The Street Of The Sun
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Contemporary Los Angeles is the central protagonist of José Rivera’s important new play. It is the first play staged on the main stage of the Mark Taper Forum to focus on Los Angeles since the world premiere of Anna Deavere Smith’s celebrated Twilight: Los Angeles 1992. Both plays address the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the racial and class tensions that continue to haunt the region. Rivera dramatizes how the city’s various communities and cultures overflow into its Latino populations, as well as into the Hollywood film industry. The relationship between these two overlapping worlds of mythmaking is at the heart of Rivera’s play. The tension between the world created by Hollywood and the experience of those living alongside it propels the drama of The Street of the Sun.
The Taper’s minimalist production, efficiently staged by David Esbjornson, was designed to highlight Rivera’s dramaturgy. The multiracial cast of ten actors, who perform over forty different characters, moved the few props needed to signify the various scenes’ locations: the central couple’s bed, a Volkswagen on the freeway, a Hollywood mogul’s office. Only a palm tree, the unofficial natural icon of Los Angeles, remained on stage throughout. This stripped-down staging both allows for quick locational shifts and underscores Rivera’s emphasis on the multiple levels of experience that shape the world of his characters.
The play covers a day in the life of Jorge Cienfuegos and Thérèse Icard (John Ortiz and Catherine Dent), twenty-something newlyweds and recent transplants from New York. Jorge, a Puerto Rican schoolteacher turned aspiring screenwriter, has secured a meeting at Cyclops, a successful albeit sleazy production company. Thérèse, his French wife, finds Los Angeles stifling and oppressive. By the end of the day this will change, but for now she cannot bring herself to support Jorge’s latest strategies for Hollywood success, including their relocation. Jorge is interested in pitching to Cyclops a story told to him by his grandmother. Jorge’s story is a creation myth—a story of a young peasant girl impregnated by the sun—that is emblematic of the indigenous belief systems of his ancestors. The play begins with the telling of this myth, the conflicting interpretations it engenders, and the couple’s debate over Jorge’s motives for selling it. As Jorge narrates the myth to Thérèse, it is enacted for the audience by larger-than-life shadow figures behind a full scrim. The simultaneous stagings of the story—Jorge’s matter-of-fact account, the ensemble’s apparitional performance—conjures the multiple dimensions of reality and perception which the myth brings forth. Esbjornson’s seemingly simple staging in this scene compliments Rivera’s effort to call the myth into question even as it is conjured.
After this scene, Jorge departs on a journey that will take him to many different locations in Los Angeles, sites which survey the panoramic landscape of the city and help organize the episodic structure of the play. He is joined by the Big Hairy Man (Herschel Sparber), an imposing and mysterious figure whose presence, though apparent to the audience, is never visible to the other characters on stage. Throughout his excursions, Jorge meets various characters who together represent the diverse population of Los Angeles. These characters are performed by the ensemble in a wide range of acting styles from slapstick to melodrama. One of the strengths of the play is the momentary spotlight Rivera allows even the most marginal of his characters. Rivera provides poetic monologues for these seemingly random characters: a frightened young Mexican refugee lost in the city; an African American mother nervously waiting for her son to join her in Griffith Park; various staff workers at [End Page...