The occasion is more notable than the production, but Ray Bradbury's short story-turned-play, "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit," is launching a promising bridge between the Latino arts community and the rest of the city.
Unveiling its maiden stage production under a small professional theater contract with Actors Equity, the Margo Albert Theater (named for the late actress) is certainly an apt site for Bradbury's comedy/drama about six Latinos sharing a white summer suit. The new 200-seat house is the centerpiece of Plaza de la Raza in East L.A.'s century-old Lincoln Park.
"The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit," published in the Saturday Evening Post nearly 30 years ago and first staged at L.A.'s Coronet Theater in 1965, derives from Bradbury's youth in the early '40s when he lived in a tenement in the area of Figueroa and Temple in downtown Los Angeles. He watched Mexican-American kids (nobody used the word Latino then) share each other's clothes, and was doing the same thing with his father and brother--he remembers, in his introduction to the play, "graduating from Los Angeles High School wearing a hand-me-down suit in which one of my uncles had been killed by a holdup man. There was a bullet hole in front and one going out the back of the suit."
He used that experience to write a story about Latinos pooling their money to share a shimmering vanilla-colored suit with which to impress the girls. Nostalgia-tinged, Bradbury's dreams are down-to-earth here.
Unfortunately, the production's pacing is also earthbound. The cast has a tendency to get lost in the wide, vaulted maw of the stage space. The solid black background is essentially propless. But the material cries for some physical definition, besides the costumes.
Lighting design by Karen Kelly is judicious but forced to carry too much of the show's burden. No set designer is credited, and the show dearly needs one to focus dramatic tension (film clips or stills from the period, projected on part of that yawning wall, would help). Budget considerations aside, this inaugural needs more than actors and music (nicely contributed by Rafael H. Robledo).
Director Alex Colon marshals appealing performances from the half-dozen ice-cream-suited ensemble members, especially from Del Zamora's dim-headed cutup. Beauty Emi Ayarza flavors the dances with a '40s Latin sheen. The choreographed interludes, designed by Brenda Barrett, who swirls among a quartet of senoritas, give the 90-minute intermissionless show its modicum of luster. Rene Carrasco is bullish in a freeze-frame brawl.
As for Bradbury, who lives here, he inexplicably was unaware that his play was being staged and was a bit miffed that nobody invited him to the recent opening. He heard about the production when The Times phoned to inquire about the play's history. He called the theater and was quickly invited.
Performances at 3540 North Mission Road, Los Angeles, Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays at 4 p.m., through Aug. 10; (213) 465-0070.