Arts & Entertainment
‘Earthquake’ borders on artistic disaster
Published Thursday, 06-May-2004 in issue 854
Written and directed by prominent local playwright Luis Valdez, Earthquake Sun had its world premiere at the San Diego Rep on April 23. Billed as a “time-traveling love story”, the drama follows the path of Jaguar Kan’s journey back in time to the Mayan jungles of 712, then to the Arizona desert in the year 2012, and finally to the year 3312.
In contrast to the jagged time line, the story line is simple: Jaguar is on a quest to find his long-lost twin brother and the love of his life.
Thematically, this production — which gestated for 40-odd years — is not up to the higher standards of past dramas (Mummified Deer, Zoot Suit and La Bamba) penned by playwright-in-residence Valdez. The play hedges on the fence somewhere between quirky sci-fi and magical Mayan myth, and its genre remains undefined. Valdez seems too playful and possibly too irreverent, tossing out one-liners that would seem more comfortable to the hip-hop generation than from playgoers looking for a bit of enlightenment from a multicultural work of art based in part on the Popol Vuh (Mayan bible tales of creation and history) and Rabinal Achi, a religious dance drama.
But some performances elevate the material. Linda Castro easily steals the show in her portrayal of “The Old One” who helps tell the tale of separated twins and a long-lost love. She is the only actor who balances her words with the right amount of realism and jocularity. The characters of Makinah, Domingo Solar and Lord Mak are adequately played – all taken on by the playwright’s son, Kinan Valdez. Daniel Rangel’s performance of Jaguar Kan is solid but unremarkable.
Terribly out of step with the other cast members are the multiple performances by Monica Sanchez (Lady Katun, Raquel Bernal and Lady Solar Wind), who remains unsure, tongue-tied and fiercely melodramatic at all of the wrong times and places. Her projection — especially for the Rep’s stage — was all too often nonexistent.
Lines like “more ways to skin a jaguar” and constant references to Mr. Kan’s member are tiresome and juvenile and should have been left on the cutting room floor. We have grown to expect a little more from the acclaimed founder of El Teatro Campesino and we just don’t get the goods with this offering.
However, the play is visually stunning, thanks to a dramatic, Mayan-influenced set (designed by Giulio Cesare Petrone) that seems to dwarf the audience in its size and splendor. Jaguar makes an impressive entrance through a time machine that elevates him into the future and back into time simultaneously. Sliding panels allow for easy access from all sides, while the major stage area is used for well-choreographed fighting scenes as well as for ball court games. Underscoring this visual splendor is the sound design by Paul Peterson, which is right on the mark no matter what millennium we’re visiting.
If you look hard enough you might find the intent of the author under all the theatrical fog and glitter: “We humans are all cosmic actors in a universal dance with the farthest starry galaxies.”
But sometimes dancing is just not enough.
Earthquake Sun plays at the San Diego Rep through May 16. Call (619) 544-1000 for ticket information.