There’s a great story in the Luchadora! program from the playwright, Alvaro Saar Rios. The play’s inspiration came from his grandmother, who was a big fan of lucha libre, Mexican wrestling. Why, he wondered as a child, was such a fan of it? He never asked, but later began to ponder it.
I was immediately thrown back to the days of Wrestling at the Chase on Channel 11 Saturday night, and the manic fans thereof, including women of, uh, a certain age, a few of whom would whack the bad-guy wrestlers with their handbags as the chap strode by after a particularly invigorating match. Who among those of us who grew up in the St. Louis media market, as we now know to call it, didn’t have some older person around who was a hot fan of wrestling?
Rios went on to fantasize that his abuela perhaps had been a wrestler herself, and went on from there. Anna Skidis Vargas found the play and has brought it to Theatre Nuevo and Mustard Seed Theatre. It’s a delight, not without its flaws, but great fun and relevant to certain universal truths. And certain policies, too.
Nana Lupita (Carmen Garcia)’s teenaged granddaughter Vanessa (Isabel Garcia) has returned the briefcase her grandmother had left at their house. That sparks a conversation about Lupita’s life when she was a girl, one big story that she hasn’t told. Her parents were migrant workers when she was born, but when the flashbacks begin, it’s 1968. The young Lupita (Thalia Cruz) is minding her widowed father (Rahamses Galvan)’s flower stand. They’re living in a little town in Texas, and Lupita’s two friends (Cassidy Flynn and Ashley Skaggs) are the children of German emigres. They’re all big fans of Mexican wrestling, and a title match is announced in Milwaukee. There’s no way they can go, of course. Life is difficult. The flower stand is struggling, Dad has a really bad back, and the friends’ older sister (Hannah Pauluhn) has run away.
Dad reluctantly allows Lupita to deliver his briefcase – yes, that briefcase – to an address in town that turns out to be that of a mask maker (Cassandra Lopez). No instructions beyond “Don’t look in the briefcase,” but the woman is expecting her and the briefcase. Wrestlers in the lucha libre style wear masks, of course, and we’re off.
That title fight, of course, looms large in the story, particularly when El Hijo (Carl Overly, Jr.), the current champion, appears on stage, inviting cheers, and, eventually, other responses, too.
All the young actors are smooth and professional, led by Cruz as the younger Lupita. Garcia, playing Lupita as an adult, is a delight, somewhere between fun and no nonsense as she tells her story. Ghalvan’s struggles with his bad back and the flower stand are borne realistically. And Overly barely manages not to steal the show, given the over-the-top nature of lucha libre.
There’s apparently some question about whether this is a play for young audiences – it seems to have been categorized as that sometimes – but it does work for adults, although occasionally seeming a little didactic, as when the father talks about his time as a migrant worker. Still, it’s worth opening young eyes to, and the other, larger theme, how females’ roles are expanding in society despite opposition, is a well thought out one. David Blake’s multi-level set works well, Michael Sullivan lighting is a key to much of the action, and of course the costumes, from Carly Parent, are a significant factor. Zoe Sullivan did the sound. Mark Kelly’s important contribution was the fight choreography, and boy, did it work well!
It may not be Shakespeare or modern opera, but it’s a good use of one’s time, and here’s yet another show that works well for young ones ending their school year. I liked it a lot.
Through June 17
Mustard Seed Theatre
6800 Wydown Blvd, Clayton