Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

La Esquinita, USA
Arizona Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Matilda the Musical and Audra McDonald with Seth Rudetsky


Rubén C. González
Photo by Tim Fuller
Using some of the students he encountered and the sense of helplessness he felt during his experience as a substitute teacher in Southeast L.A., Rubén C. González's one man show La Esquinita, USA brings to life ten colorful characters in a small U.S. bordertown where the people and the city have all fallen on hard times. While it isn't a completely successful venture, it is exceptionally directed with rich creative elements, and González is a master craftsman in his ability to breathe life into these characters as he effortlessly transforms from one to another.

González sets his play in the fictional town of La Esquinita, a once successful city whose inhabitants found their lives changed due to the closing of the local tire plant. The residents now find that crime, drugs and unemployment have taken over as they struggle to make ends meet. The story centers on Daniel, a drugged out high school student who desperately needs money to pay off his debt to his dealer and who dreams of getting out of this broken-down town to join the military. We also meet a host of other people, young and old, male and female, all interconnected in some way to Daniel and the town.

González presents an interesting tale and eloquently establishes both a place and people that we've all seen, heard of, or come in contact with. La Esquinita resembles so many small towns across the land where big factories moved in and the inhabitants pinned their dreams on the promises the company made only to have their hopes dashed when the company closed down due to changes in the economy or, as in the case of La Esquinita, USA, the company relocates out of the U.S. to China. While this play premiered back in 2010 it is clearly still just as relevant today.

Director Kinan Valdez's firm touch and the superb lighting design by Michael Oesch and evocative sound design by Anahuac Valdez help assist González as he weaves together these divergent characters. The changes in light and sound transform the stage as quickly as González morphs, with changes in his vocal inflection and body language from character to character. It all plays out on Regina Garcia's excellent set that portrays a chainlink fence outside the abandoned factory with discarded tires and garbage scattered around a bus stop where Daniel waits for a bus that seems to never come.

While González is exceptional in his portrayal of these disparate and desperate people, there are a few moments in his play where slightly unfocused themes or characters are introduced and it is unclear what, if any, point they have in the plot. Most pressing of these is the individual who appears to be an Indian mystical deity; we see him several times, but I have no clue what connection he has to the story. There is also the struggle between the African Americans and Hispanics in the community and the issue of masculinity when Daniel speaks about the Spartans and the film 300. But these topics are only touched upon and aren't fully fleshed out. Also, the ending is ambivalent, possibly to make us decide for ourselves what we think would happen to Daniel and the people we've met. But after spending an intense 80 minutes with these individuals and being drawn into Daniel's plight, it just makes it seem unfinished and even somewhat disappointing to not know what happened to this anxious young man.

While I wish it were somewhat clearer and had a better ending, La Esquinita, USA is an intriguing character study that puts the spotlight on the many small towns across the land whose inhabitants find their once booming area now desolate and their dreams no longer within reach.

La Esquinita, USA runs through February 26th, 2017, at Arizona Theatre Company, the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at www.arizonatheatre.org or by calling (602) 256 – 6995.

Director: Kinan Valdez
Scenic Design: Regina Garcia
Lighting Design: Michael Oesch
Sound Design: Anahuac Valdez
Production Stage Manager: Glenn Burger

Cast:
Rubén C. González*

*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.


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