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One Man, One Car

Women, wheels and the Vietnam War fill the narrative in Teatro Visión's 'Drive My Coche'

By Marianne Messina

TEATRO VISIÓN'S current one-man play, Drive My Coche, sweeps audiences up with poetic Spanglish ("the mist del mar") and the story of a young man hopelessly "enamorado." Center stage, we see the robin's-egg-blue 1960 Chevy Bel Air (yes, the actual car), the third member of a 1970 love triangle along with 18-year-old Bill Conboy (Luis Saguar) and his first real love, Cathy. "I figured maybe she could leave me, but she couldn't leave my car," Bill reminisces, capturing the simple passion of his teenage self.

As Bill tells us how his co-workers teased him for being so enamored, it's hard not to fall into the love story and the nostalgic state of mind. When the couple park by the L.A. seashore, the vast ocean is lit on a screen behind the car (Jacob Vega/Canote's slide presentation includes moving scenery for the car in motion). Our raconteur, the contemporary Bill, quotes Cathy's words, "If we could sit on the shores of our hearts, we'd hear that same sad roaring song." The sound of waves (provided by Andrew Hohenner's sound design) rolls under Bill's narrative. When he says, "The radio tells us that the body count in Vietnam was 93," the number 93 emerges on the slide screen (which could have been larger so as to cover the full length of the car) in the middle of the sea.

But only for a short time can the romance blunt the impact of the war that's going on. Once Bill gets a notice that he is about to lose his 2S (student status) draft deferment, a countdown begins. Bill has 30 days before reporting to the draft board, and the effects of the war begin to creep into his life and love. Blending slides and sounds with the live guitar work of Tomás Montoya—who remains on a riser to one side of the stage, seated at a cafe table—the production captures the politically tense ethos of the era gently and with balance. Several scenes enumerated as "Draft Board Rants" (scene titles also appear on the slide screen) have the feel of the draft-board protest song "Alice's Restaurant."

Though Saguar seemed to find some of the rhymed passages awkward, he had no trouble adapting his voice and cadences to create impressionistic voices from the times—for example, Arlo Guthrie in the draft-board scenes and Jim Morrison in a kind of performance-poetry interlude: "I thought I threw one red brick right through the glass." Also impressionistic, Montoya's guitar parts (a sort of group collaboration that includes Saguar and director Wilma Bonet) suggest songs or outline genres from the period, the Kinks to Bob Dylan.

Much like playwright Roy Conboy (who was in attendance at this performance), Saguar is fairly low-key as the "smart little brown boy in a big white world," conserving the high energy for scenes like his visit to the draft board and a violent protest in Seattle. Saguar's Bill is never on a soap box, just a kid living a life. Both the script and Saguar's rendering tastefully avoid becoming shrill, and the impact of the play's political message strikes home in three final slide images shown in succession: the number of soldiers killed in Vietnam, the number of dead so far in Iraq, the names etched on the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

Drive My Coche, a Teatro Visión production, plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through June 6 at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $4-$12. (408.272.9926)

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From the May 26-June 1, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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