Music and Empathy Drive La Jolla Playhouse’s Beautiful ‘Fandango…’

Danny Ray Caraballo. (Photos courtesy of Rich Soublet II.)

The immigrant experience continues to be difficult for many people living in the United States. However, both the joys and struggles of Latin American immigrants are explored in La Jolla Playhouse and the End Garde Arts fantastic production of the play with music, Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes).

Set in Chula Vista, a small community of migrants meet in a “sanctuary,” (vividly brought to life by scenic designer, Johnny Moreno, at the Mandell Weiss Forum). They share their life stories with each other, and take part in personal and celebratory songs. As they continue to socialize, one of the members, Elvin (Danny Ray Caraballo) anxiously waits for his cousin, Johan (Roberto Tolentino), who recently entered the states.

Since Johan’s appearance is delayed, Elvin worries if his cousin will be successful with his plans to see him.

Inspired by interviews with actual Latin American immigrants in New York, Andreq Thome’s script shifts back and forth from realistic comedic and dramatic conversations, to artistic monologues and speeches. Grounded reality and fanciful scenes are captured strongly by director, José Zayas, lighting designer, Lucrecia Briceno and co-lighting designer, Stacey Boggs.

That balance comes to a head in an extended sequence about the harrowing process of crossing the border. Zayas (with assistance from movement director, Alexandra Beller) stages this part of the show with theatrical artistry, as audience members hear about the emotionally and physically difficult venture.

In between the dialogue, there are songs that range from classics such as “La Bamba,” to the original composition by Sinuhé Padilla (also the music director, zapateado choreographer and a performer/musician in the piece), “El Desierto.”

While several rousing tunes are performed, one of the most touching is “La Carretera.” The combination of the haunting vocals from the cast who double as musicians, and memorable music from Patricio Hidalgo/Chuchumbé, allows the number to be a highlight of the drama.

Frances Ines Rodriguez, Tania Mesa, Carlo Albán, Danny Ray Caraballo and Sinuhé Padilla.

Throughout the performance, subtitles in Spanish are shown for the majority of the spoken words, while English titles are displayed for most of the lyrics and some of the occasional Spanish prose. The text onscreen help theatregoers fully appreciate the story, especially as the lyrics tie into the narrative.

All the performers are not only very talented with their acting, dancing and musicianship but they make their roles feel like fleshed out people. The company, which features Caraballo, Tolentino, Carlo Albán, Celeste Launza (understudying for a role played by Silvia Dionicio during a performance I saw), Jen Anaya and Frances Ines Rodriguez each have plenty of charisma, warmth and vulnerability. This allows theatregoers to empathize with the characters, especially as the stakes of the plot slowly raise.

After the 95-minute one act, an informal fandango performance takes place outside with artists from the staging. It’s a perfect way to follow-up the tale, and keeps the high energy going from the powerful conclusion.

Wonderfully crafted, Fandango for Butterflies beautifully humanizes the immigrant journey. Zayas’ direction, Thomes’ writing and the music all largely contribute to a frequently moving evening.

View the program online.

[box] Show times are Wednesday at 7:30 pm, Thursday at 8:00 pm, Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. [/box]

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La Jolla Playhouse
2910 La Jolla Village Drive La Jolla CA 92037 USA Work Phone: 858.550.1010 Website: La Jolla Playhouse website
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