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FAMILY: Ventura County

All in the Family

Play staged in Spanish explores the foibles of close-knit kin.

May 01, 1997|ROBYN LOEWENTHAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Teatro de las Americas has opened its sixth season with an entertaining, fast-paced production of "Chumbale," a two-act comedy for families by Argentine playwright, Oscar Viale. The play, presented in Spanish, will make you laugh and move you to think about some serious issues, too.

Under Christina Aerenlund's direction, the six-member cast successfully translates--in every sense--the humorous vicissitudes of a working-class family in conflict.

The play was written and set in 1971, during a tense sociopolitical period in Argentina. But this serious background is submerged, and any awareness of the situation merely clarifies certain allusions and adds texture to the superficial absurdities of the plot.

The action occurs over a 24-hour period in the bedroom of newlyweds Enzo and Mecha, and in the hallway of the house shared with Mecha's parents, Roque and Mercedes, her 18-year-old brother, Quique, and married sister, Aida.

The title "Chumbale" is an exhortation for someone to bang on the door or to raise a ruckus. It refers to Enzo's frustration at the refusal of relatives to knock before entering, which drives him to barricade the door and defy his authoritative father-in-law by threatening to paint the house, an act of personal rebellion.

Enzo struggles overnight with his demons: "To paint or not to paint, that is the question."

While the play raises some serious issues--including family violence, rape and personal versus familial identity--there is enough broad humor and engaging dialogue to keep it "family entertainment." But considering some of the language and subject matter, this is not a suitable production for children under 10.

One issue examined in the play is the concern over the image one portrays to the outside world. "It is very much an American mentality that you can do anything you want," said Aerenlund. "The difference, culturally, is that Latinos get to have the extended family, the support. But the trade-off is you conform, and everybody in the family social network has something to say about how you live your life."

Coming from a primarily Mexican background, the cast and director have adapted the distinctively melodic Argentine accent and "porten~o" dialect of Buenos Aires to the more familiar idiom largely shared by the audience.

In addition, the company has prepared a fine, readable translation of the play in English that is projected on the set wall so non-Spanish speakers can also enjoy this production.

Juan J. Gonzalez gives a strong performance as Enzo, who has been fired from 20 jobs--but only nine in the eight months since the wedding. Dora Sustaita plays Mecha, who struggles with her identity as loyal daughter, sister and wife. Cesar Hernandez is well-cast as Quique, the brother whose weekend military service introduces some darker moments.

Lourdes Solorzano brings fire to Mecha's sister Aida, embittered by the bullying treatment that her own absent husband received from her father, played by newcomer, Jim Valdez.

The Teatro's board of directors' chairwoman, Margarita Cortese, is a scene-stealer as Mercedes, the mother whose pithy remarks both amuse and later, chill, as she protects her image of the family through denial and rationalization.

In under two hours, "Chumbale" will leave you chuckling and satisfied. Reactions to how the family resolves its moral and ethical issues should prolong the experience and provide fodder for some thoughtful discussions.

BE THERE

"Chumbale" continues through May 10 at Petit Playhouse in Heritage Square, 730 South B St., Oxnard. Performances are at 8 Fri.-Sat.; 5 p.m. this Sun. only. Tickets are $10, $5 for seniors and students with I.D. and may be purchased at the door. For information, call (805) 984-3222.

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