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Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on June 19th, 2008, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 9, Issue 14 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 9, Issue 14

Battles of the heart

PCPA's world premiere of Heart's Desire tells a tale of war, racism, and the American Dream

By SHELLY CONE

There’s hardly a war story out there that isn’t heart wrenching, that doesn’t touch the soul on some level. In that respect, Jos» Cruz González’s play, Heart’s Desire, is no different than any other tale of wartime strife—but just when you think you’ve seen it before, this play reaches out and hits you were it hurts.

Heart’s Desire is the tale of a young Mexican-American veteran, John Guerrero, who comes home from World War II with a new bride and a new dream. But he finds that he has to face a town that has changed as much as he has, though at the same time hasn’t changed at all.


American Dream:
Johnny (Juan Monsalvez) and Rachel (Vanessa Ballam) come home from the war to find a new war at home.
PHOTO COURTESY/PCPA/LUIS ESCOBAR/REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO
Racial tension is high in the town of Mercy. Tensions stretch within the Guerrero family as they try to accept Johnny and his non-Latino bride. Resentment lingers among the loved ones Johnny left behind.

And then there’s a twist. Johnny’s wife, Rachel, reveals the scars of her time spent in a Nazi concentration camp. At night, she wrestles with nightmares of her loss and the hatred she can’t forget. During the day she relives that pain by watching the same story of hate and violence unfold in Johnny’s life.

As Johnny tries to stand up for racial equality, Rachel—who’s scared that what she lived through is happening again—attempts to persuade Johnny to move them out of Mercy. But Johnny believes that he needs to stand and fight; Rachel believes it’s not about fighting, but about surviving.

 

González effortlessly weaves several parallels and a strong thread of emotion into a seamless story of war, survival, passion, and healing as he explores the struggles that Mexican-American veterans faced when coming home from World War II.

Fortunately, lively dialogue and colorful vernacular lighten up what’s otherwise a seriously heavy tale.

Rachel, played by PCPA Resident Artist Vanessa Ballam, wins hearts with her sweet disposition and sad vulnerability. She does an outstanding job of blending the characteristics of a suffering soul with one who wants to heal, creating the embodiment of innocence.

She shares several profound and touching moments with Valentina, Johnny’s grandmother, played by Catalina Maynard. Rachel speaks only French and Valentina only Spanish, yet they find ways to communicate and bond by sharing time in Valentina’s holy garden. Rachel eventually wins over the fiercely protective Valentina after they each learn that they’ve experienced similar suffering in their lives.

Maynard offers a wonderfully hilarious Valentina, a superstitious old woman who puts plenty of faith in her saints but little stock in her grandson, Johnny, whom she calls “idiota” because of his actions.

Mimo, Valentina’s adult son and Johnny’s uncle, also helps balance the seriousness with some much-needed comic relief. Mimo, played by Leo Cortez, is mentally a little slow because of a childhood accident. Yet even with his childlike sensibility, it’s through him that Johnny receives profound insight.

When Mimo says that he’s not brave because everything scares him, Johnny tells him, “When you’re most scared is when you’re the bravest.”


Homecoming:
Valentina (Catalina Maynard) and Mimo (Leo Cortez) think that Johnny is a ghost when they first see him.
PHOTO COURTESY/PCPA/LUIS ESCOBAR/REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO
For his turn, Johnny—played by Equity Guest Artist Juan Monsalvez—showed a great range of emotion. In one particularly emotional scene, as he tries to convince Rachel he’s doing the right thing by standing up for his convictions, he falls to his knees and says “Because of you I’m reborn. ... War turned me into a walking corpse, and you made me human again.”

Richard Gallegos plays Chicote, an old friend who felt betrayed when Johnny enlisted by himself instead of with his friend, as they had planned. Gallegos is great at portraying Chicote as the buddy scorned.

Leticia V»lez makes an excellent Rosie, the woman Johnny was supposed to marry. V»lez gives a memorable performance when she finds out Johnny brought home a wife. As Rosie, she takes off the boxing gloves and shows off her “picante” side, as Johnny calls it.

González said that the inspiration to write the play came from hearing so many stories from veterans. He said that he remembered a farmworker who worked with his grandfather. The man lived in a one-room shack and on a shelf in a crate was a purple heart. Later, he was further inspired by a book called Among the Valiant.

“It opened my eyes to this time and the context of what these men did,” he said.

As González began to explore the subject more, he began to examine the roles of women—like Rosie in the play—who took on the jobs that men abandoned for the war.

González was originally commissioned to write Heart’s Desire by a small Latino theater company in Minnesota. It got a one-day reading, but the company was unable to produce it. Gonzalez continued to work on it until 2006, when PCPA contacted him to develop the work for production.

González’s other plays include The Blue House, Sunsets and Margaritas, Tomas and the Library Lady, The Cloud Gatherer, Earth Sons, Waking Up in Lost Hills, September Shoes, and Harvest Moon. The University of Texas Press will publish a collection of his dramas this fall.



INFOBOX: War is drama

Heart’s Desire plays in the Marian Theatre on Allan Hancock College’s Santa Maria campus from June 12 through June 28, and then performs in rotating repertory with Godspell in Solvang from July 3 through July 26.

 



Arts Editor Shelly Cone has a lot of heart. E-mail her at scone@santamariasun.com.

 









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