Before “57 Chevy,” which my acting class took a trip to see on Wednesday in Los Angeles, I had never seen a one-man show, which made me initially have doubts about the play’s ability to keep me engaged for an hour and a half. How could one person, one character, maintain a presence so engrossing that they didn’t need anyone else on stage with them? As you can probably tell, I was thinking of a one-man show as more of a really long (boring) monologue than a play with diverse characters interacting with each other in a meaningful way. Coming out of the play, I am glad to not only have had my misconceptions cleared up, but also to have been thoroughly entertained in the process.
The main character Cris “Junior” Franco, played by Ric Salinas, narrates his life story through the lens of his beloved father’s Chevy, the symbol of the Franco family’s American Dream. Junior seamlessly transitions from playing himself in the present day to himself as a child, to his father, to his mother, and to a multitude of minor but hilarious characters. I was really impressed with Salinas’ ability to adopt the mannerisms, inflection, and tics of people of different ages, ethnicities, and attitudes. Within a few moments, I had a good sense of each character’s personality and truly believed that Salinas was whatever he was acting as. His exaggerated gestures and voices contributed to the comedy that kept the play light while dealing with deeper issues of race.
Salinas also made excellent use of props, especially the two desk tables that he writes on in the beginning, in order to help the audience visualize what was happening. The tables filled in for almost everything--from the front door, to a coffin, to (of course) the Chevy itself. Combining props with realistic movement and the projection of images in the background, Salinas always made clear where the character was and what he was doing. My favorite moment was when Junior talked at length about the “stalker gringo Jesus” (which, if you are Mexican, you’re probably very familiar with) while the picture was displayed behind him just in case you haven’t seen it before.
We see all the play’s events through the perspective of Junior, who at ten years old has to deal with moving from the familiar South Central L.A. to the “Same” Fernando Valley. The tensions between his immigrant family at home, the white people at school, and his distant relatives in Mexico are expressed poignantly through a series of anecdotes of his day-to-day experiences. His father is shown over and over again to be an important figure in his life as he undergoes this process. I understood the father’s desire for his son and daughters to achieve, especially in light of his background and the love he clearly possesses for them; he becomes a sympathetic character alongside Junior as a result. Junior’s navigation through issues of identity and race is a political one, but personalizing it through childhood memories and a strong relationship with his father makes it more subtle yet also real. As a fourth-generation Mexican American, I fundamentally appreciate the Latino Theater Company for producing a piece of art that I was able to partake in, even if I couldn’t relate to everything that happened in Junior’s life.