Thursday, May 21, 2009

Theater Review: "San Burguesa & The Pixie Chicks” @ El Teatro Campesino

Fresh from the lab, El Teatro Campesino associate artistic director Kinan Valdez uploads a mind tweak production that feels familiar and unfamiliar at once.
"Sam Burguesa and the Pixie Chicks," written and directed by Valdez, is a musical cabaret deeply steeped in the company's Chicano teatro tradition. It plays through May 31 at the Teatro in San Juan Bautista.
The production is part of the company's new "Teatro Lab," an experimental vehicle designed to produce new work in the now 45-year-old theater.
Under Valdez's watch, this latest work promises an updated swagger to the farmworker's theater formula.
The tale of "Sam Burguesa and the Pixie Chicks" revolves around the delusional Sam (Anahuac Valdez, charasmatic as ever), a 30-year-old malcontent crushed under the weight of his failed dotcom startup.
That was 10 years ago, when Sam had ambition and what his madre Eva (Rosa Escalante, charming and tormented) likes to call "vision."
Of course, those visions are fueled by the combination of his inability to mature beyond the fairy tales his mother baked into his head, and the drugs he takes to appease his personal demons. This lands him first in the looney bin, then in his parents garage.
Eva fights Sam's delusions of the past and his penchant for playing with dolls and the desire of her second husband Nestor (Jesus Huerta) to be rid of his stepson's neuroses for good.
It's at night, when everyone's asleep, that Sam's delusions come to life, when his Lil' Buddy (Christy Sandoval) shows up with a pack of gangsta pixies in tow.
When the struggle for Pixieland ensues, Sam's condition turns chaotic, challenging his sanity and even the love of his own mother.
The play travels into the realm of magical realism, a staple of Teatro productions dating back to artistic director Luis Valdez's "Zoot Suit."
The pixies are draped in colorful rags and vivacious transvestite wigs, a nice touch courtesy of costume designers Lupe Trujillo-Valdez and Zoa Lopez.
They sing and dance, as pixies are wont to do, but these ain't no fairy tale pixies. Under the tight musical direction of Stephanie Woehrmann, with songs written by her, Chas Croslin and Kinan Valdez, the numbers animate Pixieland like Pixar.
These pixies also have chops. Yellow pixie Fairly Brite (Jillian Mitchell) puts in a solid performance during her solo. Trixie Trickster (Michelle Valentyne) is deliciously deviant as Sam's femme fatale.
The play fancies itself as dark because the pixies cuss and sing off-color, and Sam molests his dolls, but it's all played for laughs.
Never taking itself too seriously pays off for the most part, although the family secret of why Eva never turns her son away (or, for that matter, seeks professional assistance for him) loses a bit of its bite as a result.
That goes away when the Pixies sing a song about how corporate America has commodified Pixieland.
Taking shots at the system is another Teatro standby, one that raises the stakes in any production.
When the pixies sing it, they go for the throat:
"We'll tell you 'bout society/Right now it's all anxiety/Enforcing clean sobriety
So f--k pixie propriety/You'll sense a bit of piety/It's 'cause of the economy /The fear has shifted gears in pixieland."
Valdez also has some fun with the economy, aiming at corporate hustlers and thieves. When Sam goes on Pixieland trial for his business improprieties, he defends corporate kickback allegations as "retention bonuses to keep the top talent."
Valdez's script is rife with plenty of these clever allusions, but strays when it shoehorns revolutionary rhetoric into the festivities.
Those missteps are minor, and in fact welcome in this experimental staging. While the themes are familiar, the style feels brand new in the Teatro.
Even the staging, taking full advantage of the room's parameters and stretching the stage almost into the audience, is a departure for the company.
And those small elements give the production and the company a sense of upheaval. Props go out to Kinan Valdez, his cast and crew for recognizing the need to modernize the Teatro template.
If "Sam Burugesa" is any indication, the Teatro Lab's experiments could bring new life to the aging company.


• What: Teatro Lab production of "Sam Burguesa and the Pixie Chicks"
• Where: El Teatro Campesino, 705 Fourth St., San Juan Bautista
• When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through May 31
• Tickets: $20 general, $15 students and seniors, $12 children (under 12). All seats are $10 on Sundays
• Information: 623-2444 or www.elteatro
All contents ©2009 MONTEREY COUNTY HERALD and may not be republished without written permission.

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