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Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 21
PCPA blends history with drama and music in the world premiere of 'The San Patricios'
BY JOE PAYNE
The Mexican-American War is an oft-overlooked period of American history, partly overshadowed by the turmoil of the Civil War, which followed less than two decades later. The conflict included many bloody battles and ended with the redrawing of borders to create the ones we know today. However, most Americans don’t know, or forget, the stories from that time. Playwright José Cruz González and the Central Coast’s PCPA dove into the era—specifically the story of The Saint Patrick’s Battalion—to create a new, historically inspired play.
The San Patricios is the name of González’s new play, which is also the name given to Saint Patrick’s Battalion in Mexico. The battalion was made up mostly of immigrant Irish, who fled the great potato famine to America in hopes of prosperity, and instead found themselves fighting in the American military against Mexico. Ultimately, Saint Patrick’s Battalion deserted the American forces and joined with Mexico, providing their skills in cavalry to the losing side of the war. Once caught, they were all executed; now they are recalled as traitors on one side of the border and hailed as heroes on the other.
“It’s an epic piece we created here,” González said. “It’s telling American history, Mexican history; the immigrant story continues in this play.”
Many factors contributed to the San Patricios joining Mexico, González explained, including mutual Catholic faith, the promise of land and wages, and cultural commonalities like music. The music, especially, was an important part of creating The San Patricios. PCPA and González acquired the musical help and talents of Daniel Valdez, who produced the music for Zoot Suit and the film La Bamba. Valdez has arranged historical music as well as new compositions for the play, which is set to premier July 31.
“It makes it like a piece of musical theater, in that music actually advances the narrative,” explained Mark Booher, PCPA’s executive director and director of The San Patricios. “It’s also very indigenous to the time, place, period, and people.”
The music includes Irish and Mexican folk songs and military music of the time from both America and Mexico. Valdez arranged the music in such a way that not only is there a score that accompanies the production via sound systems, but much of the music is made onstage by the actors—with not just their voices, but instruments as well.
“One of the things that’s really wonderful about some of the musical pieces that we’ve selected is there are a cappella pieces and there is live playing, too,” Valdez said. “That’s a tradition that’s passed on through generations and wonderful things that are found in Irish and Mexican music that have that same kind of commonality.”
The story has developed much since PCPA and González began working on it, with certain characters taking more prominence than one would expect of a war story.
“We also found what was exciting was to hear stories about women participating in this famous war that would end up shaping the United States in very profound ways,” González said. “There was one newspaper article that talks about a woman, it was discovered, who was dressed as a man because she had followed her husband into the war, and we found that really interesting, and ultimately that really became the center of the play, these two women who go through this whole war and ultimately meet at one point in the play.”
Though many of the characters are based on historical figures—like the two women, Mary Casey and Ofelia—they are fictionalized. Two characters that loom large in the story due to their political stature, but also because of their roles as the narrators of the show, are Gen. Santa Anna and President “Ringmaster” Polk. PCPA resident artists Leo Cortez and Erik Stein play Santa Anna and Polk, respectively, who cast the story in a circus-like light, which has a deeper political implication.
“We see also these historical characters who are sort of the ringmasters of this piece,” González said. “We have President Polk, president of the time, and Gen. Santa Anna, dictator for life. They are the ones manipulating as this story unfolds.”
PCPA cast, crew, and the creative team have been cloistered in intensive rehearsals with González and Valdez, hammering out each minute detail of this new theatrical work. The premiere is the second-to-last production in PCPA’s 50th anniversary season.
“To me, this was perfect,” Booher said. “To be able to collaborate with José in this season, our 50th anniversary, where we are celebrating all the things that make PCPA a wonderful theater company here on the Central Coast for five decades; one of the things that makes us special is not only our commitment to the classics of dramatic literature, but also being in the present tense of theater, giving voice to the new idea.
“To be able to present a classic like Oklahoma! simultaneously with a brand new work with a living playwright that we have a deep relationship with, I think, is a perfect portrait of the kind of theater company that we have been and are,” he added. “That dynamic, I think, is really fantastic.”
Arts Editor Joe Payne can’t wait for the show. Contact him at email@example.com.