By: Paola Hornbuckle
The San Diego Repertory Theatre is currently presenting its most ambitious and complex artistic project in the history of its Calafia Inititative, a visually dazzling new play called “Nuevo California” by playwrights Bernardo Solano and Allan Havis. Calafia is a commissioning initiative born six years ago, which forges partnerships between artists and citizens to provoke new works of interdisciplinary performance that deal with the future of “our bi-national region.”
Most of the play, set in the future after a massive earthquake drops Los Angeles and much of Orange County off the continent, consists of dreamlike snippets of interactions between Mexican and American characters as they try to create a new community. The scenes often resort to a dance-like choreography and make use of elaborate Mexican costume and imagery, as well as Mexican and American music and poetry. The elaborate dance and choreography, is interwoven with dialogue between characters. There does not seem to be a definite plot except for the coming to power of the first Mexican-American Pope in history and the attempt on his life. The Pope is quite unorthodox and a unique and puzzling character.
Although set in the future, the play makes use of contemporary ideas and issues. We get a few stereotypical characters: the ugly American, ignorant of other cultures, always thinking about the commercial or entertainment value of people and things, and ready to exploit, as represented by the troublesome journalist and the Oprah like commentator. In addition we have the exploited Mexican, trampled upon by the ugly American, fiercely protective of his or her native culture and artifacts, as represented by the woman tending to the graves. There seems to be much anger coming from the Mexican characters, as if with the making of a Nuevo California comes the time of reckoning for the American section of the new community. The play also offers snippets of strange dreamlike characters and falls very neatly into magical realism, where basically, the play doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to fascinate.
The development of Nuevo California has relied heavily on interviews with hundreds of people from both sides of the border. Testimony from people in three cities San Diego, Tijuana, and Mexicali has included interviews with people as diverse as the Chief of Police in Tijuana, San Diego’s Business Leaders Council, Border Patrol agents in the field, Mexicali’s women’s rights leaders, South Asians and Catholic priests on both sides, and many more.
It is up to the audience to decide if the play can successfully unite such diverse voices and issues and make it come together in the end. Like a big, modern piece of abstract art, sometimes one is so busy looking at all the little, seemingly unrelated, pieces that make it up, and so dazzled by all the different shapes and colors, that one forgets to see if it all creates a whole. Then again, by the time one is finished gazing at it one wonders if it really matters if it does or not.
The play is running February 7 though March 2 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza. The times are Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Wednesdays though Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee, with a 2 p.m. matinee on March 1. For tickets call (619) 544-1000 or get online at www.sandiegorep.com.