Saturday, October 06, 2007

Zoot Suit in San Jose

Alice McGrath asked me to join her last night in San Jose for a production of Zoot Suit, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Wow.

First we met playwright Luis Valdez and his wife Lupe for a drink at the hotel. I had never met Luis before and relished the conversation with him and Lupe. Despite several efforts, I wasn't able to interview Luis for American Prophet, so I was grateful for the chance to hear more about his life, work, and relationship with Carey McWilliams. Alice was the model for the character Alice Bloomfield. Luis met Alice after he interviewed Carey in his New York apartment; the rest is theatrical history.

After our drink, a long train of period cars pulled in to escort us and the cast to the dinner and performance. Alice and I rode in a cherry red 1953 Chevy Bel Air convertible. We drove low and slow over to the Center for Employment Training and got a lot of approving looks from pedestrians and motorists. The car's owner, Tony, and his wife told us that they're often asked to provide this kind of service. They were part of the halftime show at the 49ers game last week, and their car club sponsors a toy drive every year in addition to helping out with other events. This isn't our ride, but you get the idea.

When we arrived, a big crowd was on hand, including media. Lots of photographs (Alice was asked to pose dozens of times over the course of the evening), including a crew from Telemundo. Mariachis were playing, and neighborhood kids gathered to watch zoot-suited players step out of their rides.

After we settled in, the CET folks explained their mission and handed out awards during dinner, which was prepared by the CET culinary arts students. Many local politicians were on hand, including San Jose's mayor, Chuck Reed. Luis gave the keynote address, a brief but rousing talk about the continuing struggle for social justice on the immigration question. Alice said a few words and got a standing ovation from the 500 or so people on hand.

We moved over to the auditorium for the performance, directed by Luis and Lupe's son, Kinan, the resident associate artistic director at El Teatro Campesino, the theater company founded by his father in San Juan Batista. Cesar Chavez's nephew, Rudy, introduced himself to Alice and said he was looking forward to the show, which he had never seen.

It was a splendid performance. I had seen the film version, but it was nice to be front and center at a live performance. Lots of energy, cool costumes (of course), and the action and sets matched the script's creativity. As we left, the cast gave Alice a round of applause. Sweet.

By the way, the photo above is from another production. I'll get one from the San Jose performance asap.


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