By Peter Thomas Ricci
Teatro Vista has a long history of producing nuanced, historically relevant material for the Chicago stage, and their latest production – “Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy” – is another fine entry from one of the city’s very best theater companies.
Co-directed by executive artistic director Richard Gutierrez and legendary actor/director Cheryl Lynn Bruce, “Hope” tells the story of a Mexican-American family living in early 1960s Phoenix, and how the parents, their four children, and friends balance not only the precarious nature of their identities, but also the turbulence and upheaval that was the 1960s. The marvelous cast is composed of many Teatro Vista regulars, all experienced artists who bring true dimensions to their characters: there is Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel, who as Elena, the family’s mother and backbone, grapples with her growing dislike of husband Charlie (the charismatic Eddie Martinez) and escalating love for family friend Enrique (Victor Maraña); as the feisty Gina, Ayssette Muñoz is compelling and likable, especially as she balances her budding feminism with her attraction to the sweet Rudy (Tommy Rivera-Vega); and the golden-voiced Janyce Caraballo is a comedic delight as Betty, who is obsessed with the recently elected John F. Kennedy.
I mention Caraballo’s soaring vocals because “Hope” incorporates ‘60s pop songs in a creative way. Less a musical and more a vaudeville in the vein of Arthur Miller’s “The American Clock,” the play separates its scenes with brief performances of songs like “Love Hurts,” with all the cast members taking turns to perform (Caraballo and Maraña are particularly strong). More than a novelty, the songs provide critical context to the play’s drama, and accomplish in a few bars what may have taken several minutes of dialogue.
I will admit that through the first 20 minutes of “Hope,” I was not sure where the play was going. The dialogue seemed hokey, the action stagnate, and I wondered if Evelina Fernandez’s writing was going to really dig into the political implications of the ‘60s. Yet by the end of the show’s tightly paced 110-minute runtime, those fears had washed away. I was delighting in the interplay among the four children, especially the bravado of Nick Mayes’ Johnny. I was touched by the fiercely adult romance between Elena and Enrique. And I appreciated the subtle, careful development of Betty’s politics – who does not end the play as some radical, but rather, one who is reconsidering the naiveté of her earlier views.
It all makes for the careful, passionate work that Teatro Vista is known for, and what I am eager to see in every one of their productions.
Presented through Oct. 27 by Teatro Vista at Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago IL 60622
Tickets are available by calling (773) 697-3830 or by visiting www.teatrovista.org.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.