By Beki Pineda
AMERICAN MARIACHI – Written by Jose Cruz Gonzalez; Directed by James Vasquez. Produced by the Denver Center Theatre Company (14th and Curtis, Denver) through February 25, 2018. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.
Being married into an Hispanic family, I recognized many of the traditions addressed in this script. The care given to the elders, the automatic deference to the patriarch, the unquestioned loyalty to the family, the power of religion…they are all are illustrated in this production.
Lucha’s mother has slipped into dementia, only occasionally rousing at the sound of a certain song or a familiar voice. However, the audience sees her, in her memory, as a younger woman dancing and falling in love. When her father breaks her only recorded version of the song he wrote for his wife and refuses to play it for her himself, Lucha resolves to put together her own mariachi group so they can sing the song for her mother. They start from literally nothing. She finds four other women to take the chance but they have to learn to play the instruments and sing the songs with no experience or talent. She recruits her estranged uncle to help them learn everything in time to play for her mother.
The story is, in turns, sweet and funny. Unfortunately, it’s also predictable and sentimental. It’s played for the tears; if there is a dry eye in the house at the end of the show, it’s not from lack of trying by this cast. One thing I did find very endearing – even at the end of the show, the ladies were playing better but it still seemed like the cast members REALLY had to learn how to play the guitars, violins and trumpet from the group. They were not cast in the production because they already knew how to play these complicated songs and instruments. In contrast to the professional male mariachi players who wove in and out of the story and background, they were beginners.
If the point of the production was to educate about the mariachi tradition and to foster an appreciation for this historical type of music, it succeeded. I will never experience mariachi music in the same way by virtue of seeing this show. The exhibit extolling the history of female mariachi players in the lobby of the Bonfils Theatre is also worth taking a few minutes to review before or after the show.
A WOW factor of 8!