Josefina Lόpez, scribe of the screenplay "Real Women Have Curves," wrote the play "Trio Los Machos" to honor the history of her father and his fellow braceros whom were brought to the U.S. from México by the U.S. government between 1942 to 1964 to function as agricultural and railroad workers.
Lόpez crafted this two-act musical dramedy in an attempt to lend voice to the men who have been either deported or exploited, according to the whims of the U. S. government and the businesses it has seemed to serve.
During this time of immigrant controversy, Lόpez strives to remind us, no doubt, of how much our lives depend upon the kindness – and nimble minds and bodies – of foreigners.
Inside the lobby of the Casa 0101 Theater, there is a gallery of photos documenting the passions and vocations of scores of braceros. The photos are compelling and tell a clear and moving story – more so, actually, than the play.
The narrative of "Trio Los Machos" is unnecessarily complicated with two sets of men at two stages in their lives, and hence two sets of actor-musicians, only a few of which are expertly skilled (especially musician Gilbert Rodriguez), along with numerous flashbacks and transitions.
The presentation is also complicated with Spanish supertitles that distract and which are not even necessary if the play is written and directed to be language accessible.
There is a scrim stage left and a scrim stage right and several sets splayed awkwardly about, which is trumped in my confoundedness by a consistent and overt avoidance of downstage center, which makes me wonder if it is a rule at Casa 0101 that downstage center must always be avoided.
This is the second play at Casa 0101 where the actors have stayed as far away from downstage center as possible for most of the show, and I don’t understand why, because when there is action downstage center, as with that one scene during which a line of men endure a humiliating inspection, the effect is smack-dab powerful.
Additional aspects of the blocking are equally surprising. During a moment of intimacy between young bracero, Paco (Adrian Quiñonez), and his novia, Aurelia (Rocio Mendoza, who sports a lovely, sultry voice), the actress abruptly sits for no apparent reason, other than, perhaps, to dissipate the emotional intensity of the scene.
During a later moment of significant disagreement, the same couple fights behind a scrim, so their high-stakes drama is literally veiled and at a distance.
While I fervently admire Casa 0101 for their consistent intent to bring to the community of Boyle Heights (and to all marginalized people, really) wonderful, excellent art, they would better achieve their purpose with a smidgen more perfectionism.
In a town like Los Angeles, where there are so many seasoned professionals, Casa 0101 could employ the most highly trained theater artists. Yet, there are several actors in this show (and in the last play I saw) with no significant training or experience, and there are newcomers behind the scenes, as well.
Yes, it is spirited and generous to open up wide one’s artistic doors, but that doesn’t mean to just anyone, lest the final goal remain unrealized.
The refrain of the recurring song, “Somos más que brazos, somos corazόn,” (We are more than arms, we are heart) is the refrain of the bracero (“brazo” means arm) as it was the logical wish of the braceros to be respected, not just as workers but as whole, bleeding men.
The opposite refrain might be that of this theater company: “We are more heart than we are arms,” as it seems that their compassion outmuscles their technique.
Because the arms of the braceros (and of today’s migrant workers) harvest and package and transport and build and paint and carry and decorate and manage and sew and fish and prune and care for...and they have done so, and do so, with a steadfast aplomb, it would behoove Casa 0101 to employ in their stagings a similar commitment to precision.
"Trio Los Machos," written by Josefina Lόpez and directed by Edward Padilla, with original music by Danny Weinstein and additional lyrics by Claudia Duran, continues at the Casa 0101 Theater through July 8, 2012.
Trio Los Panchos, the band of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s that served as musical inspiration for the production, and which included, for a time, Eydie Gorme, may be revered here.