Melancholia pays homage to dreaming in East LA

By S. Hennessy Machado-Hildago

“Melancholia,” devised and created by the Latino Theatre Lab, is a powerful play that leaves its audience gasping for air through tears and laughter.

“Melancholia’s” devastatingly talented cast members each story beat with the full force of their hearts, souls and even their bodies.

The performance was held outside on a cement floor that the well-trained actors had no hesitation impacting through jumps and falls throughout the play. The sound of boots and bodies hitting the floor are just as essential to the play as the score.

The play begins with Tar, played by Arnol Zepeda, quoting Hamlet, “to be or not be?”

Tar is one of the two fools in clown’s clothing that resides in the protagonist’s consciousness.

He’s a cynic that sports a dark long coat with a love for Shakespeare and biting remarks.

Skittles, played by Valerie Vega, eventually counters, “to **** or not to ****?”

Skittles leans more into the clown nature of her and Tar’s shared aesthetic, with a sparkling bow atop her turquoise hair.

She enjoys ridiculous, jarring humor even during some of the most serious moments.

When La Muerta, played by Norene Flowers, takes the stage the audience immediately recognizes that she represents death even without hearing her speak or knowing her title.

Her face is decorated with calavera makeup worn by Mexicans celebrating Day of the Dead.

La Muerta’s haunting face has a red flower that blooms from her forehead. Red flowers bloom all along her sweeping, black dress up to her crown of golden rays. The blood and vivacity of life coming from her consuming darkness. 

The actress plays the role of death grace exuding in every subtle expression as she observes the protagonist from the stage and at some points from the audience’s seats.

The audience is then introduced to the protagonist Mario in among a sea of United States Soldiers lost souls from the Iraq war. 

Mario is played by three different actors; Miami Berrios, Isaiah Noriega and Jared Walters.

They are all the same Mario, the rest of the cast interacts with Mario as the same person even as the actors shift.

The three Marios do seem to represent different stages of Mario: before considering the military, being sold on the promises of the military and post military service as a Marine.

As such, they also represent different aspects of Mario’s character.

Noriega said, “I take [my Mario] as a more hopeful and poetic and hurt Mario.” 

Berrios said, “My interpretation of my Mario is that he’s the aftermath of what happens when you come back from war.”

Walters’ Mario seems to represent the desire to come into manhood, to have independence and life experience beyond East Los Angeles where the play takes place.

Walters’ Mario says, “I don’t want to end up like my father with a Tecate in my hand and unfulfilled dreams in my heart.”

The rest of the cast plays multiple roles as fellow soldiers at war, Mario’s friends and family, soldierettes selling the American dream and crying nuns.

The crying nun costumes are as wonderfully innovative as they are creepy. The nuns wear solid white masks that completely hide anything remotely human. To show their tears the nuns pull blue ribbons from compartments below the empty eye holes.

Aside from the fools and La Muerta, every character wears plain skeleton face paint. 

This is not only used as part of the story-telling experience to show how Mario is haunted by death, but also as a practical tool that allows actors of all backgrounds to play whichever role in this story told from a specific Latino East LA perspective.

This is a play very much written in earnest for the people of East LA. However, this is a play that tugs at everyone’s heart strings.

LACCD students can attend the upcoming performances of Melancholia for free at the Los Angeles Theatre Center the weekends of October 6 to October 9 and October 13 to October 16. Each performance begins at 8 p.m.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *