By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
These very traits have worked their way into Water and Power’s father, who gives his socially awkward son, Power, lessons in how to attract girls by holding a jacket in just the right fold across the arm but never wearing it.José’s stern side is also in the play.
“When my dad taught me to ride my bike, I smashed my nuts on the handlebars, but he wouldn’t let me get off until I learned how to ride it,” recalls Montoya. “Even my mom was screaming, ‘Get the boy off the bike!’ ”
The father in Water & Powertrains his sons to box against each other, to cheat, to ambush, to prepare for the blows and betrayals and surprises of life, to survive.
Montoya says that, despite similarities, his own father was actually gentler than the father in his play, possibly because the play has a more dangerous, urban-barrio setting than where Montoya grew up.
“I couldn’t play baseball for crap, so he yanked me from the Little League because he didn’t want me to get hurt on the baseball field. The part that I’m grafting onto Water & Poweris the competitive nature of the boys, everyone wanting the approval.”
When I remind Montoya of his irrepressible bursts of clowning in rehearsals, as though they emanate from some formative survival mechanism and an ingrained hunger for the approval of laughter, he’s genuinely surprised. “Do I really do that? Oh, no.”
On the afternoon of June 27, the first day of rehearsals, the cast and crew gather around a series of large rectangular tables in the Taper Annex. “I made a promise a year and a half ago,” Ritchie says to his staff before rehearsals begin. “And I’ve kept that promise.”He then turns to Montoya and says jokingly, or not: “Now don’t fuck it up.”
Ritchie’s investment in Montoya is a high-stakes gamble given the prestige of the Taper and the costs of producing work there: upward of $500,000 per show. Even under the old Broadway system of the ’30s and ’40s, before the era of endlessly rewriting new stage plays, there were out-of-town tryouts in Boston or Philadelphia. And though Los Angeles is not New York, the national theater magazines are watching. There’s no escaping or postponing the opening-night glare of attention.
Lisa Peterson stands behind a chair and, from the fastidiousness with which she straightens her red sweatjacket that hangs on the chair’s metal back, it’s clear she’s the director.
I start to ask Peterson if she was concerned that Ritchie might renege on his commitment to produce the play, but before I can finish the question, Peterson is already nodding. “Yes, I was worried. Berkeley was a proving ground.”
As the child actor and his understudy mark their parts in their scripts with yellow markers, and Dakin Matthews (playing a demonic old lobbyist) sits attentively — looking slightly disheveled in shorts, sandals and silver hair that careens wildly after escaping the restraint of a cap — Peterson explains that Water & Powerhas not gone through the usual workshop process like Chavez Ravine.“We have done readings and it’s been developed, but it’s been all script work,” she says.
Before the actors start the reading, Montoya relates a recent conversation he had with the mayor about Water & Power, when Villaraigosa said, “Tell me it’s going to be funny. We need to laugh out here.”
Montoya swipes his hand through his hair and sighs, “Anglo-Jewish tenant plays are taken seriously, but when we do our play, we get, ‘Tell me it’s going to be funny.’ ”
He describes the play’s origins. “Lisa [Peterson] and I were drinking when we saw [Assemblyman] Gil Cedillo pull up in a Town Car, and Lisa said, ‘That’s your new play. That’s power. Follow it.’ ”
Peterson adds, “The plan has always been to go without an intermission, partly because it’s a compressed tale. We’re still struggling to get it to a length we can do comfortably.”
The first read-through takes about two hours and 10 minutes. Peterson then closes the rehearsal to all but Montoya, Glore and the stage managers for more script work.
The next day, Peterson works with the cast around a table. Norte/Sur’s prologue, introducing the brothers, had spun from references to Maya theology to West Valley gringos to the MTA’s Gold Line. Now it’s filtered down to the essences of Greek tragedy. To paraphrase: Welcome to the dark house, it’s raining cats and dogs, the lords of death are back in town, and here’s a pair of brothers I want you to meet.
Siguenza complains, “The lords of death are back in town? They’re everywhere! How can they be back in town?”
“I think it’s fine, guys,” Montoya replies with a slight edge. “Let’s just let it live for a day.”
Peterson asks Glore, “Do we know enough? Do we get enough information? That’s the question now.” Montoya offers to look at his own character’s BlackBerry phone calls “because they’re feeling a bit long with all these other cuts.”
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