- Terelle Jerricks
By John Farrell
Armand Gatti is a prolific French playwright and filmmaker who is little known outside France, partially because his films have never been available on video, partly because his plays have rarely been seen outside France.
Eighty-eight years old now, he is still at work and his student and friend Emmanuel Deleage has translated his 1964 surreal play The Imaginary Life of the Street Sweeper, August G., into a vibrant English and is directing the play’s American premier at the Casa 0101 Theater in Boyle Heights. August G. runs there through May 13.
It takes 31 actors in all, including five incarnations of August G. himself (from age nine to an ageless old man) to tell the story. There is an on-stage trio that plays several songs written for the production, a number of swing numbers for the big dance-marathon that is the plays centerpiece, and doubles as policemen as well, and plenty of others as the action moves from August’s childhood home to his life in retirement. The story is based, loosely, on the life of the author’s father, an anarchist who fled from Chicago to Italy and then again to Monaco when Mussolini rose to power. Gatti himself was born at a roadside during the family’s flight from Italy in 1924. Gatti has had a remarkable life, but that’s another story.
August G. spends his life sweeping the streets in an unidentified warren of poverty, never managing to make it to Route 105, which leads to somewhere better, he supposes. Instead he dreams of his adventures as a different man, adventures that include resistance to a strike-breaking army, winning a dance contest, dying of his injuries. In the end he does get to live, in the realized dreams of his son who makes movies.
The story revolves around the reminiscences of Alistair Hunter’s August G., an elderly version of August who looks back on his life. Serafin Falcon is August G. at 46, vibrant and still willing to challenge the world, even if he does get killed in the process. Mario Martinez is August G. at thirty, the lover who falls for Pauline (the delightful and powerful Verona Masongsong.) August G, also appears as a 21-year old (Jaime Zevallos) and at age 9 (Isaiah Rojas at the Sunday, April 22 performance.) The four musicians, drummer Mark Kraus, guitarist Erik A. Gavica, bass guitarist Howard Bee and especially keyboard player Josh Duron, keep things moving in the well-choreographed dance competition.
There is plenty to think about in this play: about the aspirations of even street sweepers for more from life than just streets to sweep, about the everyday problems of working class people, about love and the poetry that can be found even in garbage heaps. Plenty to like, too. And the brand-new facilities of the Casa 0101 Theater, (opened last September,) with a performance space, a large lobby and an art gallery, are worth visiting themselves as East L.A. Comes of age.
Tickets are $20 general admission, $17 for students, seniors and groups of 10 or more, and $15 for Boyle Heights residents with identification. Performances are Friday, April 27 at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 28 a8 p.m., Sunday, April 29 at 5 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 5 p.m. through May 12.