The Surreal Reality of “August G”

Reviewed by Senior Theater Critic Dale Reynolds

Latino theatre is continuing its climb out of the narrowness of the barrio, and is steadily achieving recognition by more than just the Latino press and audiences. But the problem that sometimes hinders its full acceptance by non-Hispanic audiences is “magical realism” — taking life into the realms of the surreal – that which cannot logically happen is made to happen by Faith.  In this case French-American director Emmanuel Deleage takes a French play from his past, and  tries to take what is surreal, putting it into a Latin context, and it doesn’t fit very well, it seemed to me.

August G isn’t in quite the magical realism category but is aligned with it, with its surrealist dream-state of what-might-be-real, but-may-not-be-so style of theatre. One that doesn’t attract me as an audience as it developed as a sub-rosa political form – the kind of theatre that flourishes in totalitarian societies, where arguments must be made below the radar, but out-in-the-open enough for folk to get the message. In addition to its massive number of points-of-view. It truly was hard to follow.

August G (Sarafin Falcón) is a 46-year-old street sweeper, one of many who are protesting the wretched working conditions and mind-control by the rich owner of the company, the “White Baron” (Patrick Riviere). Brutally beaten during a peaceful demonstration, August hovers between life and death, remembering important incidences in his life (his Grandfather (Melvin Weiss) who influenced the nine-year-old August (Nahum Ponce), or his lover, Pauline (Verona Masongsong), with whom the 30-year-old August falls in love, to the wife he eventually took, Laurence (Claudia Durán), to the projection of an ancient, doddering and failing August (Alistair Hunter), and his best friend over the years, Christian (Alex Miramontes), and dozens of others, too numerous to keep in one’s mind.

That August G is mostly in and out of reality makes this play extremely choppy and difficult to follow: what is real and how do we ascertain it from the fuzziness of his dream-state? Using 31 mostly community actors, in a lovely newish space in Boyle Heights, Casa 0101 Theatre, director (and translator of the original 1962 French version by Armand Gatti) Emmanuel Deleage has blocked it well on the large unit-set of Marco de Leon’s, under the spot-lighting design of Sammy Ross. But he is hampered by the amateur acting of most of the cast and of the four Equity-actors, only two live up to their backgrounds. One of those is the lead, Sarafin Falcón, an actor of equal amounts of intensity and introspection, giving a terrific acting job that clearly pulls from his vast professional background.

Gatti’s play is deliberately set in a non-specific land of the struggling poor and the very rich. It’s political in its tone as it deals with the fragmentation of the leftist populace, especially those who work as garbage men and those who serve in the army against them. I found it utterly non-engrossing, mostly because of the sloppiness of cue-pick-up and superficial acting. Those who could act did so by fighting through the energetic dullness of the others. But the costumes (by Carlos Brown) helped set the time-period, from somewhere in the 1950s, but going up and down the calendar by August’s blow-on-the-head concussion confusion. Director Deleage didn’t help himself by showing silent films of World War I, further confusing time and place. Ah, well, conceptual theatre….

The CASA 0101 space, however, is splendid in its usefulness: raked seating so everything can be seen, spacious room for high sets, and a simple, clean and elegant lobby for intermission gathering, with room on its remodeled walls for art displays. As they do more theatre, and earn a stronger reputation, it won’t hurt to visit it in this rapidly gentrifying section of Boyle Heights, near the Metro Gold Line.

Casa 0101 Theatre is at 2102 East First Street, Los Angeles, CA 90033 in East L.A. (at St. Louis Street). Through May 13th, 2012. Tickets: 323.263.7684; tickets@casa0101.org or log on to:  http://www.casa0101.org/