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Solis Power: Playwright Octavio Solís based 'Santos & Santos' on his hometown of El Paso.

Trouble In El Paso

Teatro Visión winds up its 20th season with Octavio Solís' furious family drama 'Santos & Santos'

By Marianne Messina

AS HE introduces the cast to the production crew, Octavio Solís, the director of the upcoming Teatro Visión play Santos & Santos, says—with great emotion—they're "a cast that is so right, so right." It's natural to dismiss his laudatory words as a mere pep talk until they start reading the play for the first time. Seated in a semicircle at long tables, the cast members, who are reading together for the first time, create riveting drama, even without the grappling, the flamboyantly '80s wardrobe or the dramatic explosive fire called for in the first act.

Part of the power is in the script—Solís also wrote the play (though he tells the actors, "I have taken that hat off")—and in its layers of tension. Two Mexican-American brothers—Mike (David Cavallero) and Fernie (George Castillo, whose hotness to trot jumps out from behind the rehearsal table)—run a law firm. Though both are married, the more responsible Mike has a child on the way, while Fernie's wife, Vicky (Lucinda Serrano), refuses to think of kids until her playboy husband settles down.

The normal strain in this family picture (especially when Fernie's philandering starts getting in the way of business) has been the stuff of entire plays. Yet into the mix Solís throws the family's real business: drug running. Before the first act is out, tight-knit family affairs are stretched by unsavory third parties (Tom Gough, slimy even from his seat as Casper T. Willis), by an idealistic third brother, Tom´s (Jim Sanchez), who turns out to be Vicky's former true love, by betrayal and by moblike retribution. Two more acts to follow.

Solís has an intimate connection to the material. Though the play is based on the real 1970s murder of a judge in San Antonio, Texas, Solís modeled the town on his hometown of El Paso and moved the story into the 1980s—"the decade that I developed, that I came into my own." As Solís introduces the members of the production team, his creative input in each step of the process becomes evident. Costume designer Gloria Grandy wheels out a clothing rack of leopard prints and big-shouldered jackets in "reds, purples, oranges, teals." As she explains that the wardrobe is a cross between Dallas, Dynasty and Miami Vice, Grandy pulls one outfit off the rack at a time, discarding them into a heap on the floor. "I want you to look very dangerous, very sexy, very strong and powerful," Grandy says to the cast. "And hip," Solís adds.

Grandy also wants colors that stand out sharply against Mike Walsh's scenic design. When Walsh comes out to familiarize the cast with the set, he brings a scale model. The tiny tiers of scrim panels, front to back, are all a desert gold topped in drab-sky gray. "When lit from behind," Walsh explains, "you can't see them, or they can be a kind of fog." Solís had suggested an abstract design because of the way his scenes jump rapidly from El Paso to Las Vegas to the city dump. "It has to be a chameleon," he explains to the cast. He points out that, like Shakespeare, he has included ample references in the dialogue to fix the sense of place, time and weather.

In her opening speech to the cast, Teatro Visión's artistic director, Elisa Marina Alvarado, says that it was no accident that the company should close out its 20th-anniversary season with Solís' language-rich text. Alvarado has helped the company grow since its inception, when it mainly produced agitprop skits to be performed at festivals and rallies. She sees the company's partnership with Solís as "one of the highlights of the evolution of Chicano theater." And from the looks of Santos & Santos, it will surely propel the maturing company in the direction of depth, development and the next generation.


Santos & Santos, a Teatro Visión production, plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm, May 19-June 5, at the Mexican Heritage Plaza Theater, 1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $14-$17. (408.272.9926)


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From the May 18-24, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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