Evelina Fernandez, Rudy Ramos, Jonathan William Cruz, Geoffrey Rivas… (Ed Krieger )
He’s holy, he’s handsome, he’s dead. The good works — and good looks — of Pope John Paul II form the touchstone of “Charity: Part III of a Mexican Trilogy,” now at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. This soulful story of a Latino family losing its moorings has a big heart, albeit a meandering style.
“Charity” is playwright Evelina Fernández’s sequel to “Hope,” which followed the struggles of the assimilated Garcia clan against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the death of JFK.
Now it’s 2005, and former teen rebel Gina (Fernández) has grown up, married her obliging sweetheart (Rudy Ramos), and lost a son (Sam Golzari) in the Iraq war. Grief chokes the family, and even the mad old matriarch in the attic (soap star Ofelia Medina) refuses to die; how can she abandon the Garcias to their confusion -- and even worse, a German pope? Only when wide-eyed Mexican cousin Juan Francisco (Jonathan William Cruz) shows up to chase the American dream does the family face its demons.
Director José Luis Valenzuela works with a skilled design team to create a magical realism staging that moves fluidly from naturalism to heightened movement and song. The first act’s glacial pacing and long monologues are hard to take, but a terrific acting ensemble grounds the story, and you root for the Garcias to find their way.
As in “Hope,” the most powerful moments in “Charity” are gestural and musical — when feeling finds stylized expression. The nostalgic ballads cut to the heart like strong prophecies: to enter the future, you must embrace the painful past.
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“Charity: Part III of a Mexican Trilogy” Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 3. $40. Contact: (866) 811-4111 or www.thelatc.org Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.