Tacos La Brooklyn is the first play to be produced from Latino Theater Company’s new play development program.
By Carol Edger Germain
Circle of Imaginistas, supported by a grant from Warner Media, sets a high bar for future productions. I’m already looking forward to the next production.
Tacos La Brooklyn is written by Joel Ulloa, directed by Fidel Gomez, and produced in association with East West Players. The play follows Chino, a young and ambitious Korean American, much of whose upbringing was provided by his informal “adoptive” abuelito (grandfather) and his partner, Lencha, who is also Chino’s assistant tortilla maker, but that culturally influenced background isn’t known to all and isn’t processed by those he is close to until it becomes an issue.
Chino hopes to grow his successful taco stand, “Chino’s Underground Tacos,” into a brick-and-mortar restaurant. He prepares authentic barbacoa steam cooked underground, but makes some adjustments to avoid certain chemicals, which raises the price a bit, which (in my opinion) is misinterpreted as “appropriating” and changing it. When Yesenia Tapia, a Mexican American social media influencer, accuses Chino of cultural appropriation and pandering to a gentrifying neighborhood, the question of how much cultural authenticity can be attributed to being raised in a culture not typical of his physical ethnicity, and the LA setting is rich with opportunities to explore than phenomenon.
“Appreciation Not Appropriation” is the theme of this multi-cultural, fast-moving story, and the many complications and interpretations of that phrase are well developed. Although there are serious issues, competition, and emotional interactions, there is plenty of humor, music, and developing understanding as well. It might be slightly optimistic to reach awareness and understanding among the various characters by the end of the play, but it works. Given the tumultuous happenings in our country and the world, who isn’t ready to welcome an atmosphere of “can’t we all just get along” (sorry Rodney King, but decades later the answer is still iffy)? The primary scene is the LA River Night Market, where street vendors gather to sell their wares, and the appreciation/appropriation issue is well documented in that context. For a long while, Chino had been selling his tacos, Monse sold her sweets, and Mike sold his Cali-Meats, each bringing a six-pack of cerveza, with all three packs going to the first vendor to get 50 customers. But things change a bit when the “elevating” and “appropriation” issues start coming up more frequently.
Throughout the play, “El Musico” wanders in with his guitar to provide relevant music. We are also treated to the hip Cholo lowrider culture spreading in Japan. I was happy to hear “Sitting in the Park,” a favorite oldie. The dialogue is quick, colorful, and intense, as is the changing stage scene and background projections, and all of the actors are on the mark. I was glad to see a young, enthusiastic audience there. It would be interesting to read the minds of the attendees because this is definitely a play that will be experienced differently based on the viewer’s personal experience, and again, I think it’s a definite plus to make it a bit of a group-hug ending.
The following links provide additional info and history on the night market and the Japanese lowriders, in case your knowledge is slightly sketchy like mine: Japan’s underground Chicano culture and Ave 26 Night Market | Pico Rivera.
It’s a treat just to visit the 100+-year-old Los Angeles Theatre Center, originally a bank, where Latino Theatre Company has been operating since 1985. Be sure to arrive with a few minutes to spare to allow time gazing at the lobby, known for its stained glass ceiling supported by heavy ornamental bronze cornices and marble walls. There is a parking garage next to the theater and another lot directly across the street. And trust me, use the 110 and exit at Hill, ignore your GPS if it tries to route you around to the 5.
Tacos La Brooklyn Written by Joel Ulloa Directed by Fidel GomezStarring Gavin K. Lee as Chino; Esperanza America as Yesenia Tapia; Xavi Moreno, Zilah Mendoza and Alejandra Flores as fellow LA River Night Market vendors Mike, Monse and Lencha; Sal Lopez as Chino’s abuelito”; Paul Dateh, Ariel Kayoko Labasan and Sayaka Miyatani as “Japanese Cholos” Benjiro, Whisper and Mariko; and Jesus “Chuy” Perez as “El Musico.” Creative Team: scenic designer Natalie Morales; lighting designer Pablo Santiago; sound designer John Zalewski; projection designer Hsuan-Kuang Hsieh; costume designer Maria Catarina Rodrigues; and choreographer Urbanie Lucero. The assistant director is Nicolas Ruano. Stage manager is Alexa Wolfe is assisted by Valerie Vega. Los Angeles Theatre Center 514 S. Spring Street Los Angeles, CA 90013 Extended until Nov. 5 Tickets: latinotheaterco.org/tacoslabrooklyn (213) 489-0994
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