Theater review: Fresno State’s ‘Electricidad’ offers a high-voltage adaptation (with a Latinx twist) of the ancient Greek play ‘Electra’
The King is dead. Will the Queen live long?
There is a crispness, a vibrancy, an urgently impending reckoning – dare we say it, an electricity? – in the Fresno State production of “Electricidad.” This hearty and substantial theatrical experience is very much a worthwhile endeavor. Director Gina Sandi-Diaz has given us a tight, taut, fascinating and moving work.
First and foremost, playwright Luis Alfaro is an amazing storyteller. In his adaptation of Sophocles’ classic “Electra,” he weaves the timelessness of bare-knuckle, cutthroat family human drama into the specificity of a modern-day (but still somehow mystical and magical) East Side of the City of “Los.” (Alfaro indicates the tiempo is “right now, baby.”) The combination sizzles.
Related story: 5 Things to Know: Fresno State’s ‘Electricidad’ updates a classic Greek tragedy to the streets of East L.A.
The amazing thing to me is how well the two parts fit together and complement each other. You’d never expect a resident of Mycenae living 3,000 years ago to describe her homeland split by a freeway and in the shadow of skyscrapers. Likewise, a Latino resident in present-day L.A. probably wouldn’t react too kindly with a daughter laying out the body of her murdered father on the front lawn and guarding it as it decays. (Sounds like something that, well, the ancient Greeks would do.) Yet in this mashed-together world that Alfaro and Sandi-Diaz have created, along with the help of a crisp design team, it all seems to somehow make emotional sense.
The acting is fierce and fine. Ellie West is impressive as the reckless and righteous Clemencia, mother to Electricidad. We learn Clemencia has, indeed, killed her husband, the “King of the Cholos,” one of four all-powerful gang leaders in the area. The mourning Electricidad (a purposeful Jennifer Rodriguez) vows to avenge her father’s death, even if it means matricide.
There are also rumors that Clemencia has ordered the death of her own son, Orestes (Carlos Sanchez, in yet another superb Fresno State performance after his memorable turn in “This Is Our Youth”), who has been sent into exile. Is he dead, or are the short scenes we see of him toughening up to take his father’s place in real time? Themes of predestination, vengeance and the burden of forgiveness weigh heavily upon these characters.
With West’s riveting interpretation, we learn how murky the relationships in this family are. Clemencia has her own reasons for killing her husband – she was snatched by him while underage, and abused throughout her marriage. Electricidad refuses to see her father as anything but a hero. Her sister, Ifigenia (a suitably subdued Cindy Sanchez), newly returned from a convent in Fresno, offers trite religiosity but also insights into family loyalty.
And then there’s the neighborhood. Kings operate at a certain rarefied level but profoundly impact the lives of their lowly subjects. Three prying gossips serve as Greek chorus, giving us not only narrative background but articulating the common-person point of view in this oft-violent kingdom. With their quick-pitched pronouncements (punctuated by unison tapping of their ever-present brooms) and astute observations, the chorus (played by Rachael Maciel, Samantha Ramos and Isabella O’Keeffe, all wonderful) add depth and texture to the proceedings.
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Rounding out this merry brood is Agustin Chapa as Nino, a menacing reminder of the violence of the cholo way of life, and an unforgettable Dalicia Torrecillas as Abuela. She’s not only a comic high point but a boisterous celebration of what it means to have a stage presence. If you’ve made it for as many years as Abuela has, you deserve whatever you can still claw from life. In Torrecillas’ hands, it’s a searing performance.
The tech credits are strong, including Sunshine De Castro’s lighting design, Jeff Hunter’s vaguely Tenochtitlan-feeling scenic design and Marie Ramirez-Downing’s dialect work. The costumes are amazing. Kristine Doiel and her assistant, Sofia Aria James, have crafted a wardrobe lineup that synthesizes the might and mystery of Aztec culture with the cholo sensibility. Doiel teams up with makeup designer Jazmin Valdez for some stunning tattoo art designs, the most spectacular being Electricidad’s. She boasts a prominent Aztec-like design on a shaved side of her head, with teardrop-like spots spilling down her neck and onto her simple plaid shirt.
Finally, Liz Crifasi’s sound design pumps the production full of crackle and verve, including the actual pulse of an alternating current. I think it’s stunning that an ancient play can be so easily tweaked into a purposeful, contemporary commentary. Our families are our destinies. Sophocles never knew the streets of East L.A., but he would still recognize the complexities of the human experience.