Monday, September 15, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

by Kimberly Colburn

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...” Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities invokes the singular city of Santa Ana. Or is it Sant’ana? Perhaps it is two cities.

First there is the light, bright downtown Fourth Street with its sidewalk vendors selling plump fruits and happy merchants calling out in Spanish right next to the trendy new restaurants and hipster bars.

There are generations of families that have lived here and a real sense of neighborhood pride. But there’s another version of Santa Ana: a city with dark struggles that has worked hard to overcome its many challenges, a population that faces addiction, gangs, immigration and a lack of open space. That’s often the Santa Ana that grabs headlines, meaning that the darker version is the only one that people outside the city see.

Over the past two years, playwright José Cruz González has been gathering all of the stories he can from the people of Santa Ana. You’ve probably read or seen something about the Dialogue/Diálogos project already, because José, the creative team, and SCR have scoured the city high and low to get the scoop on what Santa Ana is all about.

These stories have been gathered and transformed, and serve as a starting point of inspiration. What has come to fruition is so epic and sprawling—much like Santa Ana—that it cannot be contained within a linear narrative. Instead, it’s developed into a rotating funhouse collection of scenes taking place throughout the Civic Center in the heart of Santa Ana.

Maybe you’ve glimpsed at the plaza behind the library but hurried to the garage to avoid the homeless gathered outside—or perhaps you hurried through the courtyard on the way to take care of a traffic violation. But have you ever looked up and noticed the cement sculptural mural by Sergio O’Cadiz that wraps around City Hall?

The Long Road Today /El Largo Camino de Hoy is a bilingual play that follows the fates of two families: the Guerreros and the Recuerdos.

The play opens with four guides, who spring to life from lotería cards—a traditional Mexican game similar to Bingo. La Muerte, El Diablito, La Dama and El Valiente are the guides through this journey, and they set up the tragic event that binds these two families together.

It happens in the blink of an eye: a young boy, Andrès, is playing near the street, since there are few safe parks for him to be in. His red ball rolls out into the street. His mother Dolores, holding a pink cake box, calls out to him, just as a car whips around the corner. A teenage Salvador is driving. He’s spotted a police barricade and is desperate to avoid getting stopped. The distracted Salvador strikes and kills Andrès.

All of this takes place on the steps of the Civic Center. After the opening scene, the audience is split into four groups—each one led by one of our lotería card narrators. Each audience group is then led to four different locations and begins to see the repercussions of the accident.

During short scenes, we see the grieving Dolores look for her lost little boy; Salvador as he goes to prison; Andrès’ sister, Luz, and her abusive husband, Mundo; and Socorro and daughter, Estrella, among others. Woven throughout are scenes that will feel familiar to any Santa Ana resident or visitor and depict a community that gathers together and refuses to give up. The audience moves to each of the four locations and sees all of the sides of the stories, piecing together the narrative from the brief flashes of the lives they witness.

Some of the characters speak English, some of them speak Spanish and some of them whip back and forth between the two.

Monolingual speakers will appreciate a third layer of this production—the visual elements. Projections, dancers, and puppets of all shapes and sizes help to tell the story. You’re not meant to understand every word unless you speak both languages; the experience is a rich metaphor for the city of Santa Ana and its denizens.

The game of lotería inspires not only the characters of the four guides but is woven into the fabric of the play. Each scene is named for one of the iconic cards and, like the game itself, these characters’ lives have an element of chance. You must play the hand you are dealt in life and, as the play informs us, “You can’t change your fate … but you can change your future.”

The notion of change resonates for the Santa Ana community that has witnessed many rebirths of its downtown, from a movie star heyday mid-century to the family owned businesses that have dominated the landscape and are beginning to give way to a new generation. The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy is a portrait of a city in flux but held together by the strength and will of the people within it.

After the audience has traveled to each of the four sites, the guides bring everyone together to the plaza of the flags, to embrace all the stories—the light and the dark, the history and the present—and to celebrate the community of Santa Ana. And Santa’na.

Reserve your free tickets.

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