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Theater Review

Bilingual Message in `Marisol's Christmas'

The Falcon Theatre's production of Jose Cruz Gonzalez's seasonal play traces an immigrant family's struggle to remain together.

November 27, 2001|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 1992, South Coast Repertory's sincere youth production of Jose Cruz Gonzalez's new seasonal play, "Marisol's Christmas," achieved surprising depth to deliver a heartfelt, universal message of a loving family's struggle to stay together and reach for the American Dream.

That message doesn't reach as deeply at the Falcon Theatre. This adult professional production has a facile quality, while recent events give a different, unfortunate context to a story about a family camping under a Los Angeles freeway overpass on Christmas Eve after entering the United States illegally.

Under Mark Valdez's direction, the audience is pointedly assumed to feel instant empathy for the characters before it has had time to get to know them: Marisol (Alejandra Navarro), a little girl awaiting her mother (Adrianne Avey), who has become separated from the family during their flight, and her father (Israel Juarbe) who spins a tale to comfort her.

Young Marisol is at the center of her Papi's lighthearted and sentimental fantasy about a comet that needs to find a way back into space to help light the way for Christmas travelers. The bilingual story also involves a briefly grouchy homeless woman, a beach ball, the planet Saturn and the Earth (all played by Christine Avila); Juarbe plays a battered Christmas tree, the sun, Sammy Sosa and gravity personified; Avey is La Cometa, zooming about the stage on roller skates.

Props and costumes are created using objects conveniently found around the trash-littered, star-lit encampment (Joe Ferrulli designed the set; Nick McCord did the atmospheric lighting, which includes a strobe effect).

Despite energy aplenty and giggles for young children, however, the human story doesn't come with enough depth to answer real-world implications.

Cruz clearly wants audiences to understand the undeniable sacrifice and hardship people are willing to undergo to find a better life: Papi declares, "We crossed mountains and deserts to get here. Anybody who can do that deserves to live here."

Yet, with the newly resonant issues of secure borders and immigration, it is also difficult not to observe what is more noticeable in this production than the last: that this loving father, who has apparently been living in Los Angeles, has had his wife and daughter make the dangerous trek from Mexico to join him without being able to provide them with shelter of any kind.

*

"Marisol's Christmas," Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank, Saturdays at 3 p.m.; Sundays at 1 and 3 p.m. through Dec. 30. $10. (818) 955-8101. Running time: 45 minutes.

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