‘Charity’ A Mexican Trilogy Comes Of Age; Latin Life Denver Review

“They lied to us, the president, the congress, the CIA, all of them, they lied. Now our only son is dead and for what. There were no weapons of mass destruction” exclaims the grieving father, Rudy, to his wife, Gina, as they and their entire family try to grope with the loss of their son, Emiliano Morales, who died during the the US invasion of Iraq. (see video below).

Charity is the third play in the trilogy of works by Evaina Fernandez and directed by Debra Gallegos and performed by the Firehouse Theater Company. The play looks back at the evolution of generations of a Mexicano/Chicano family’s assimilation into American culture. (see ticket information below).

“Faith and Hope” were the first two installments with “Charity” the finale. It is not at all necessary to have seen the first two as Charity is wonderful all by itself. It plays through July 1 at The John Hand Theater (more info below). It is not a melancholy production but rather an emotionally gripping and in it’s own way an uplifting play about perseverance during many of life’s most challenging times. It is both simple yet complex and compelling to witness. Director, Debra Gallegos, has done a magnificent job of fine tuning the original Los Angeles production into something easily relatable and impactful to Denver audiences. (see video below).

Charity takes place in 2005. The Iraq war was still going on. It started in 2003 and ended in 2011. The Morales family is trying to move on with their lives following the loss the Emiliano. Gina, her granddaughter, and her husband, Rudy, experienced the aftermath of the Vietnam War. They became anti-war activists, only to see their only son killed in yet another war. “The things we saw and did over there. We were so young. We just did what we were told. We believed we were doing the right thing for our country. It was not right” Rudy, Emilano’s father, tells his Vietnam pal, Johnny, as they sit on the living room couch toking on a joint and drinking tequila both trying to ease the pain of their Vietnam experiences.

Esperanza, which translated means ‘Hope’ is the matriarch of the family. At 100 years old she is not going anywhere anytime soon. She has to look out for the welfare of the family. She loves her tequila and shares it, along with her wisdom, with anyone who comes up to her bedroom where she spends most of her time. Most of the family thinks she’s crazy and Esperanza has become somewhat of a burden to them.

“She refuses to die!” exclaims Rudy. Esperanza, played by long time Su Teatro actress Yolanda Ortega, is visited by the spirits of Emiliano and her deceased husband, Fabian, who just happened to be a priest when he was alive. Emilano is worried about his mother who can’t stop grieving and wants his great grandmother to help her move on from his passing. Esperanza quips, “These stupid politicians start wars in the name of peace, que pendejos, (how stupid) she says adding, “but it keeps happening all the time, over and over again”.

There is an envelope that rests on the living room table. Emiliano’s parents can’t bring themselves to open it. It contains the value of their son’s life as determined by him. They don’t want to know, so it just rests there day after day.

Family portraits grace the living room mantle. Emiliano’s photo stands out with him in his military uniform proudly standing at attention. In in one of the picture frames there are flashes of the Twin Towers on fire in New York City after the 9/11 attack. Pope John Paul II has just died and the family watches on TV as the world mourns.

The ex-husband she sees Esperanza as her guardian angel who want’s her to join him in heaven. She tempted to go but there is still lots of tequila to be drunk first and a family to care for. Esperanza is concerned the family has lost or is losing their culture and heritage. “Look at them, they can’t speak Spanish, they don’t even know who they are anymore,” she tells her spiritual husband.

The Morales family consists of Bobby, played by David Carrasco, a flamboyant gay cousin, who runs a beauty parlor and offers Juan Francisco, “Frankie” a job. There is Valentina played by Andriana Gonzales, the youngest generation of the Morales family, Valentina, her great-granddaughter, has a special bond with Esperanza which helps the family find the courage to take the next steps in their journey. (see all bios below)

Though the Morales family are not practicing Catholics, they clumsily turn to their religion as a way to cope with not only the loss of Emiliano but Pope . They remember the Our Father and Hail Mary but Betty, played by Jordan Hull, has to Google, “How to pray the Rosary”.

When a young and charismatic stranger shows up at the door claiming to be a relative, the entire dynamic of the play changes. Juan Francisco, call me Frankie, says he is a cousin from Mexico and has come to Los Angeles for no particular reason other than to see the Capitol Records Tower and maybe meet a beautiful blond girl along the way. Well, that doesn’t go over well and everyone doesn’t know what his true intentions are. His aunt, Gina, doesn’t want him there.

Frankie charms the rests of the family who grow to like and accept him. He brings an energy and enthusiasm that has been missing since Emilano’s passing. He tells them of how tough life is in Mexico and how good they have it in the U.S. He can’t understand why they are not more proud and appreciative of their country.

He talks about how nice it would be if someday he could provide for his family by finding some kind of success it the U.S. Gina is mean and according to her great great grandmother has been that way since she was a kid. They let Frankie stay on the couch but when sleeps in Elimiano’s bed, that’s it. Gina has had enough and ‘Frankie’ gets the vibe.

It may seem like I have given away much of the play but really this review just scrapes the surface of all this production entails. Does that envelope ever get opened? What becomes of Juan Francisco, call me Frankie? The ironic ending will leave you gasping. That’s all I’ll say about that.

Debra Gallegos discusses “Charity”

“The opportunity to direct a play at Firehouse Theater that tells a story of a family like mine, is a gift,” said Director Debra Gallegos. “Evelina Fernandez, the playwright of The Mexican Trilogy/Charity, uses her own family history and experiences to tell a universal story that touches upon life, love and loss. Our talented cast will bring this beautiful family story to life.”

And so they do. The Firehouse Theater Company for this production includes:

Yolanda Ortega as Esperanza: This is her first time performing with the Firehouse Theatre. She has been around more than 50 years as a Colorado actor, musician and director. She has been in several Su Teatro productions including Bless Me, Ultima, Northside, El Corrido del Barrio and others. She was inducted into the Chicano Music Hall of Fame in 2014. She was also Vice President of Student Affairs at MSU Denver. You can catch her Sunday mornings as host of Cancion Mexican on KUVO 89.3 FM.

I must add, I have seen Yolanda perform many times in many plays. But in “Charity” her performance was at a whole other level. You have to experience it for yourself.

Magally Luna as Gina: She is Salsera with local salsa and Afro-Caribbean band Kizumba. She has appeared in Real Women Have Curves, Joaquin’s Christmas, Barrio Moon, Ludlow and others.

Her performance in Charity is flawless and convincing.

Phil Luna as Rudy: He has been a member of the Denver Theater Company for many years. He is a Fox Fellowship Recipient and performed at the Vintage Theater in the acclaimed premiere Dot.

I really like Rudy or Phil I should say. He reminded me of some the friends I had back in day. I wouldn’t mind having a shot of tequila with him.

Adriana Gonzales as Valentina; While also making her Firehouse Theater debut, Adriana is quite accomplished.

Kinari Rima as Juan Francisco: Charity is his first professional play after graduating from the University of Colorado, Boulder, majoring in Performance. He is a singer, songwriter, actor dancer and visual artist.

This guy is going places. His performace as Juan Francisco is delighful for lack of a better word.

Elliott Murphy as Johnny: He has appeared in Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice and other productions. He may have one of the smaller roles in Charity but he certainly makes the most of it.

Jordan Hull as Betty: Jordan has performed with an array of theater companies including Atomic Theater, Su Teatro, Denver’s Dangerous Theater, the Creed Repertory Theater. Judging by her performance it is no suprise she is so highly sought after.

Fabian Vasquez as Silvestre: Fabiian previously performed in Sordid Lives, Zorro the Musical, Corpus Christi and others.

Cipriano Ortega as Emiliano: Cipriano has been a professional actor since childhood appearing on stages at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, the Curious Theater, Su Teatro, and now at Firehouse.

David Carrasco as Bobby. Everybody know David. For 18 years he has been exclusively with Su Teatro. This is his first time with the Firehouse Theater company. His husband Dan has also appeared in many produtions as well but has decided to take a break from it all. For a short while I’m sure.

Try not to miss this wonderful production. The set design by Amanda Christine is perfect. The costumes were designed by Molly Gallegos, Lighting by Emily Maddox is spot on and the sound by Rick Reid does not miss a beat. With Charity, Evalina Fernandez trilogy has come of age, it has reached its full successful development. (See ticket info below)

Performances will be June 3 through July 1, with shows Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 PM, plus Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $25 with a group rate of $20 per person for groups of 10 or more. All performances will be at The John Hand Theater at 7653 E. 1st Place, Denver, CO 80230. Tickets and more information available online at www.firehousetheatercompany.com.