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THEATER REVIEW : Latino Lab's 'La Victima' Takes Anti-Prop. 187 Slant


In 1987, Latino Theatre Lab presented "La Victima," an agitprop epic about a family's migrations across the U.S.-Mexican border over 60 years, at Los Angeles Theatre Center. Now director Jose Luis Valenzuela and the Lab are doing "La Victima" at their new home, Plaza de la Raza, as a fund-raiser against Proposition 187, the ballot measure that takes aim at illegal immigrants.

The play puts some of the issues raised by Proposition 187 into a historical context. It argues that U.S. attitudes toward immigration are largely determined by the health of the U.S. economy. The play's Villa family is tolerated in good times, for its contribution to the cheap labor pool, and deported in bad times, when jobs are scarce. Cast members deliver brief commentaries along these lines directly to the audience.

However, "La Victima" is not a dry historical document. It focuses on the human drama--or melodrama--of a mother and her children.

Amparo (Lupe Ontiveros) is born in Mexico, just before her own mother flees the revolution. She grows up in California. During the Depression, Amparo and her jobless husband return to Mexico, but she's separated from her young son Samuel (Enrique Castillo) at the train station. He remains in the United States, adopted by a Mexican American family, and grows up to become an immigration agent.

Meanwhile, Amparo's other children (Angela Moya and Sal Lopez) return to the States as adults to help pay the bills. After her husband dies, Amparo joins them, smuggled in under a car seat. When she visits her children on a picket line, guess who is the immigration officer who busts the strikers and interrogates the old woman before deporting her. No, it isn't Harold Ezell.

The play's final confrontation is eloquently played by Ontiveros and Castillo. Its didacticism is leavened with mild humor, well played by Lopez and Ontiveros but overdone by Evelina Fernandez.

Still, the play doesn't deal with some of the issues it raises. For example, how and why does Moya's character become a U.S. citizen while her brother, who emigrates at the same time, remains illegal?

This production is bare-bones compared to the one that played LATC. That one involved a clever use of suitcases and screens. A few of the actors speak too softly at times, and not everyone had learned the lyrics to all the songs. But the musical accompaniment, directed by Quetzal Flores and Jesus Perez, is solid.

Perhaps befitting its new home, this staging uses more Spanish than the one at LATC. A screen provides English translations for most of the songs and Spanish translations for some of the speeches that are spoken in English. The Latino Theatre Lab has changed its name to the Latino Theatre Company, but the old name is still used in the spoken introduction.

* "La Victima," Plaza de la Raza, 3540 N. Mission Road, tonight-Sunday, 8 p.m.; Wednesday-Nov. 6, 8 p.m. ; Nov. 6, 2 p.m. $11. (213) 223-2475. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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