- Terelle Jerricks
By John Farrell, Curtain Call Writer
You know you’re in for a very different experience when the first thing you see in play is a young man talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone before a performance.
There is nothing unusual about that. Everyone sends text messages before, during and after performances.
Yes, but this young man was using a live video feed and talking with his friend in American Sign Language.
Tamales de Puerco is not just a bilingual play, as many are at Casa 0101, but a trilingual play, in Spanish, English and ASL, with supertitles to translate everything.
Written by Mercedes Floresislas (she also has several small parts in the production), the play is based on her own experiences.
Tamales de Puerco tells the story of a young woman who has to learn ASL at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting so she can raise her profoundly deaf son while making her living selling tamales from a cart on the street.
It’s not a great play, with the supertitles making it sometimes hard to follow the action, despite the best endeavors of director Edward Padilla, who does manage to keep things moving effectively on stage. It is sometimes serious, sometimes comic, often moving and always ambitious.
But the play can’t quite decide which it is: a telling of an immigrant’s story that reflects hard truths or a comic look at one aspect of life. And the ending, which won’t be revealed here, makes for even more confusion.
But for all that, the energy of the performers —15 people playing more than two dozen roles — is clever and enthusiastic.
Cristal Gonzalez as Norma Morales, the mother, is played with passion and intensity, humor and plenty of panache. Gonzalez has to speak in Spanish and English and sign as well, and she never seems to even think as she changes from one to the other.
Miriam Peniche’s Tana is the heart of the play, always upbeat, even when dealing with the police, one of whom is Jewish (Ramona Pilar Gonzalez as Detective Cohen) and has never even had a non-pork tamale.
Lynn Moran is deaf and speaks only in sign language as Karla, but she communicates her story with an occasional squeak of enthusiasm and the help of Scott McMaster as her husband, Cesar.
Arturo Aranda gives a suitably menacing performance as Reynaldo Ramirez, the father of young Mauricio Morales (Jaden Delgado), who gives a charming performance. He loves to steal scenes and the audience goes along with it.
Many other actors contribute to this production in more parts than can be easily outlined here.
Go see this play not for profound revelations but just to see how cleverly it all works and how passionate the cast is about one kind of equality that is often forgotten.
Tickets are $20, $17 for seniors and $15 for students and Boyle Heights residents. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 5 p.m. through April 28.
Venue: Casa 0101 Theater
Address: 2102 First St., Boyle Heights.