Decaying barrio, magic universe, smokin' live theater: Rubén C. Gonzalez shape-shifts nine lives like el gato in his many-hued kaleidoscope of the imagination. His live stage art is transcendent, exhilarating in its simplicity, yet full of emotional depth. Billing his work as "socio/spiritual theater for a new age," Cara Mía Theatre Company presents three performances of Gonzalez's one man bilingual touring show, LA Esquinita, USA, through Saturday night at Dallas' Latino Cultural Center. The show, directed by Kinán Valdez, premiered at California's El Teatro Campesino in 2010.
La Esquinita, an imaginary, financially depressed town in anywhere USA, is peopled with nine quirky characters from the barrio, male and female, aged and youthful, all seeking identity, connection and peace. Gonzalez defines his universe through the persona of a shape-shifting "wise man" who comes and goes, teasing, guiding and commenting upon the other characters' actions and expressions; part Coyote trickster, part Obi Wan.
Most of the story unfolds through the painful odyssey of a troubled youth Daniel, full of pretension and bluster and immersed in the drug scene. Gonzalez's adeptness at lightning-fast transitions from one character to another, never losing a beat or dropping a line or the story's thread, and inhabiting each character with a full stage role's dedication, is a marvel to behold. He keeps his audience enchanted and eager to know where the journey leads, who might emerge next.
A gray-toned painting on an upstage screen, depicting urban decay haunted by a human heart dominates the stage (not credited in the program). Downstage both right and left, Gonzalez has placed a bus-stop sign with a derelict shopping cart parked beside it and a waist-high black trash can as "prop containers" from which he draws each character's defining tricks as the show proceeds.
Sound design by Stephanie Woehrmann and lighting design by Sarah Guerra define mood or accent a script moment (from the ping of a bell to a didgeridoo's wail) without ever upstaging Gonzalez's elegant performance.
Cara Mía Theatre's mission is to "broaden appreciation and understanding of Chicano and Latino culture through theater, literature and educational programs." La Esquinita, USA fulfills every aspect of that mission and offers an evening of charmed, evocative performance.0