By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Now the play opens in the moments after Chávez's death, where he meets the ghost of Ruben Salazar. Salazar is the L.A. Timesjournalist and news director for the Spanish-language television station KMEX who was killed by Sheriff's Deputy Tom Wilson while Salazar was taking a break from covering a Vietnam War protest. According to La Voz de Aztlan, on August 29, 1970, after some violence had broken out during the rally, Wilson burst into East L.A.'s Silver Dollar Bar on Whittier Boulevard and aimed a rifle at a group of men sitting near Salazar. Even though two women in the bar pleaded with Wilson not to shoot, he did. His tear-gas canister struck Salazar in the head and killed him instantly. Despite a ruling from a coroner's panel that the killing was a homicide, the D.A. never pressed charges.
Begley's theatrical conceit is that, in death, neither Chávez nor Salazar can remember their own lives, which provides each the opportunity to narrate their compatriots' stories. Furthermore, Begley has obtained the rights to songs by Ruben Blades, Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell, Santana, Enrique Inglesias, David Crosby, Sting, Phil Collins, Don Henley and Carmen Moreno. In the tradition of musicals such as The Education of Randy Newmanand Mamma Mia!, already-extant songs drive the action. So when migrant farm workers are turned away by local police from California restaurants and towns that don't allow Mexicans in certain public areas, we see them drifting across the stage to the sounds of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush's duet "Don't Give Up."
In the theater, Begley sits at a stage manager's console talking quietly to somebody over headphones as choreographer Roman Vasquez takes a group of actors playing migrant farm workers through some dance steps. In unison, they hold pump-spray cans of insecticide over their heads, then fall to the ground in one quick thrust.
After they repeat the scene five times, Begley asks to see it once again. He really isn't kidding around.
Cesar and Ruben previews Thursday, March 13, 8 p.m., and opens Friday, March 14, at 8 p.m. at the El Portal Theater, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; performances continue Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 7 p.m.; matinees Saturday at 3 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m., through April 27. For information, call (818) 508-4200. For tickets, call (213) 480-3232.