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American Mariachi

"If music be the food of love, play on ..."
—Shake-speare, Twelfth Night, I, i

With the resurgence of the women's liberation movement in the late '60s, the fight for gender equality began to achieve traction; but, it's been a tough, uphill battle, comprised of an accumulation of little victories, as we see in the world premiere of this funny and poignant, mid-'70s dramedy, from the pen of José Cruz González (Sunsets and Margaritas, September Shoes, and more).

Jennifer Paredes as Lucha and Doreen Montalvo as Amalia
Jennifer Paredes as Lucha
and Doreen Montalvo as Amalia
Photo: AdamsVisCom
Lucha (Jennifer Paredes) is trying to finish nursing school, but her father, Federico (Bobby Plasencia) insists that her first priority is the family, which means taking care of her mother, Amalia (Doreen Montalvo), who is suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. Lucha's cousin and best friend, Boli (Heather Velazquez) offers to help. They discover an old, unmarked 45 among Lucha's albums and when they play it, Amalia starts to sing along to the mariachi song. After Federico hears the record and breaks it in anger, the girls decide they will form a mariachi band, so they can sing this song it to Amalia.

(Left to right) Heather Velazquez as Boli and Jennifer Paredes as Lucha
(L to R) Heather Velazquez as Boli
and Jennifer Paredes as Lucha
Photo: AdamsVisCom
Paredes and Velazquez form an irrepressible bundle of energy who provide a delightful rhythm to the story, and a comedic contrapuntal to the live, vibrant, mariachi band (Trumpet, Fernando Guadalupe Zarate Hernandez; Violin, Martin Padilla; Violin, Tom Tinoco; Vihuela, Erick Jimenez; and Guitarron, Ruben Marin). Their camaradarie and high spirits help them through a series of challenging obstacles, as they try to recruit other women for their band.

Jennifer Paredes as Lucha and Rodney Lizcano as Mino
Jennifer Paredes as Lucha
and Rodney Lizcano as Mino
Photo: AdamsVisCom
Each encounter with a promising candidate—Amanda Robles, as Isabel; Natalie Camunas, as Gabby; and Crissy Guerrero, as Soyla—carries with it a fresh story of some aspect of sexism to which the women have been subjected: a controlling husband (Luis Quintero), sexual harassment, body shaming, etc. When Lucia and Boli finally cajol everyone to get onboard, they must go to Mino (Rodney Lizcano), a luthier, for instruments. Mino used to be best friends with Federico, and part of the band, but a misunderstanding by the fiery Federico banned Mino from the band and from his family's life.

Jennifer Paredes as Lucha, Doreen Montalvo as Amalia,<br>and the band
Jennifer Paredes as Lucha, Doreen Montalvo as Amalia, and the band
Photo: AdamsVisCom
The playwright, via Mino, provides us with the rich and wonderful details of mariachi history, instrumentation, and protocol, including its boundaries as a male bastion. Lizcano's thoughtful, avuncular approach, as Mino, presents a strong contrast to Plasencia's macho, forceful presence as Federico.

Gonzalez' infuses the story with elements of magical realism in Amalia's visions of a long-deceased inspirational mentor, with whom she connects in the spirit world, making her passing a bright, cathartic moment, and her life a bridge, for her daughter and friends, between traditional Mexican values and contemporary American culture.

(Left to right) Amanda Robles as Isabel, Jennifer Paredes as Lucha, Natalie Camunas as Gabby, Crissy Guerrero as Soyla, and Heather Velazquez as Boli
(L to R) Amanda Robles as Isabel, Jennifer Paredes as Lucha, Natalie Camunas as Gabby,
Crissy Guerrero as Soyla, and Heather Velazquez as Boli
Photo: AdamsVisCom
Men may be from Mars, and women may be from Venus, but like the earthlings and the ETs in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, they talk the same language when it comes to music, as we see in the final, touching scene.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere of American Mariachi, by José Cruz González, directed by James Vásquez, runs through February 25th. For tickets: denvercenter.org/shows.

Bob Bows



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