Shakespearean classic gets south-of-the border flavor

by David Dixon, Staff Writer

For the last several years the La Jolla Playhouse has produced some of its shows under the site-specific theatre program Without Walls. These performances are unconventional experiences that have been staged in locations all over the city.

Their latest play, in association with the San Diego Repertory Theatre, “El Henry” is being presented at Silo in Makers Quarter. The story is based on William Shakespeare’s historical classic “Henry IV, Part 1.”

Set in 2045, Hispanics, Mexicans and Chicanos have taken control of Aztlan City, which was formally known as San Diego. The ruler of the barrios in Aztlan, El Hank (John Padilla), is a strong leader, but his son El Henry (Lakin Valdez), lives a lazy lifestyle. Their lives are put in jeopardy by an evil rival known as El Bravo (Kinan Valdez).

Artistic Director of the San Diego Rep, Sam Woodhouse, stages “El Henry” in the style of a summer blockbuster. The world he creates with playwright Herbert Siguenza is a post-apocalyptic one that is set on a grand scale. While the setting cannot be described as a cheerful place, there is pleasure to be had in seeing such a visually detailed tale live.

Siguenza injects plenty of comic relief throughout his script, which infuses Mexican American slang known as Calo. Act I comes pretty close to being a flat out comedy with plenty of crude dialogue and “in jokes” for San Diegans as well as Chicano Americans. The tone becomes darker in Act II with shocking moments of tragedy and extended action sequences, courtesy of fight director Edgar Landa.

Siguenza also costars as Henry’s heavyset buddy Fausto. He is an impeccable jokester who handles an extended monologue just as well as a pratfall. While I am not completely sure if Fausto is intended to be an idiot with moments of intelligence or an intellectual who is occasionally idiotic, Siguenza is a pleasure to watch.

Lakin Valdez displays emotional range as the mischievous lowlife, El Henry. His vocal delivery and physicality makes his character’s growth gratifying to watch.

San Diego State Alumna Roxane Carrasco gets to play two wildly different roles as the elegant Mayor Villa Allegre and as El Henry’s tough-as-nails friend Chiqui. She finds the humor in the polar-opposite women and even displays some stellar combat skills as Chiqui.

Ian Wallace’s scenic design, Jennifer Brawn Gitting’s costume design and Bruno Louchouarn’s sound design contribute to make “El Henry” a surreal odyssey bursting with intelligence. Some audience members might be lost if they have not seen “Henry IV” before, but even they will have to admit that Woodhouse and Sigeunza have crafted a boldly creative theatrical piece.