It's spring and time for the final production from the Walla Walla Community College theater department. It's "Zoot Suit", a play by El Teatro Campesino founder and playwright, Luiz Valdez. I can promise that you have never seen anything like this before. For production value, youthful energy and talent there's not a better buy in town.
The program notes remind us that "Zoot Suit" is the first Chicano play to hit Broadway. It is based on gang violence in California in the 1940s. The plot involves a gang confrontation which results in the death of an individual. An ensuing trial ends with the entire gang being sent to prison.
The dialogue is both in English and Spanish, adding an appropriate note of "alienation" necessary to denote the obvious clash of cultures, but you don't have to worry since the actors can get their point across in any language. The play is filled with dances and songs reminiscent of the '40s. All the performers in this production are young and filled with a captivating, infectious energy.
Kevin Loomer, the play's director, has pulled an innovative coup by running a catwalk up the center of the seating area so the actors seem to walk into our laps. I suggest viewing the play in the vicinity of the walk. The set is strikingly handsome and serves economically for all the locations suggested by the script.
Jonathan Avila and Angelo Gray lead the cast with conviction, style, and energy rare in young performers. We get another chance to witness a forceful performance by Kyle Finn who plays the gang's defense attorney. His assistant, played by Becky Byrd, brings a strong feminist element to her character.
Ashey O'Neill contributes a authoritative narrative voice to the production. And Adriana Brown brings spice and passion to her love relationship with the lead character played by Angelo Gray.
Insights into Latino family life in Los Angeles circa 1940 are natural and very compelling. The members of this cast come from Puerto Vallarta, Venezuela, Argentina and various places around America. The natural unaffected performances delivered by the whole cast renders their stories of disenfranchisement all the more poignant.
This play is an occasion, an event, a learning experience, and an entertainment. Do yourself a favor, turn off the TV and see "Zoot Suit" at Walla Walla Community College.