La Compania de Teatro de Alburquerque
at Victory Gardens Studio
My daughter has been writing a story that seems to have everything–characters, action, dialogue–but doesn’t. No matter how much she writes–and she keeps writing and writing–the story never goes anywhere. One episode follows another in a random, aimless sequence. Events by themselves clearly don’t make a story, but I couldn’t figure out what my daughter’s effort lacked, so I just attributed her problem to the fact that she’s only seven years old.
Then I saw Tito and decided that this problem is not related to maturity. According to Jose Garcia, who directed himself in this venture, Tito is the portrait of an alcoholic. “The play evokes the sickness and tragedy of alcoholism revealed through the eyes of one of society’s outcasts,” writes Garcia in the program notes. “Tito is the ‘bum,’ the ‘wino’ whom we see begging for small change on the street corners across America.”
Well, OK. The play is about that too. But alcoholism seems to be just another random episode in a disjointed chronicle. We see Tito as a soda jerk, an awkward lover, a henpecked husband, a grieving grandson, and a hallucinating drunk. But these fragments don’t come together into a portrait. The parts of a good story are held together by some sort of invisible glue–a point of view, perhaps, or an attitude. We generally never notice this glue, but we do notice its absence–and in Tito it is conspicuously absent.
Garcia adapted Tito from a poem of the same name written by Romolo Arellano, who lives in Taos, New Mexico. The play, a loosely structured affair that includes songs and symbolic segments, casts Tito in the mold of the Spanish picaro–a fun-loving scoundrel who survives by his wits.
Tito makes his first appearance at the rear of the tiny Victory Gardens Studio. He staggers down the aisle, singing a jaunty drinking song and gripping a large bottle of beer. He addresses the audience in a combination of English and Spanish: “I like to sing that song por que it reminds me of . . .” The Spanish words are fairly easy to understand, and when they’re not, Garcia translates them.
Tito describes his job as a soda jerk, which he loves because he gets to make people happy. One day a distraught young woman comes in and orders a root-beer float. The coy, manipulative woman, played by Yvonne C. Orona, eventually warms up to Tito and shows him her collection of leaves covered with nail-polish paintings. When Tito suggests she use watercolors instead, the woman becomes indignant. “Nail polish is part of me,” she huffs. “It makes me look sexy. You don’t see me wearing watercolors on my body, do you?”
They get married, but after a few months she goes to visit her sister in California, starts taking art classes there, and never returns. Then Tito’s beloved grandfather, depicted by a carved wooden mask, dies suddenly–after selling his land to someone who turns it into a ranch. Tito, disconsolate, turns to drink, has some hallucinations, and dies.
Along the way, Garcia inserts seemingly irrelevant anecdotes. He describes, for example, a friend of his who met a very sexy woman in a dark nightclub. The next day, while this friend was in the grocery store juggling heads of lettuce–that’s how he decides which head is best–he saw an ugly woman coming down the aisle and realized it was the same woman. “He ran out of the store so fast he left the lettuce still going in circles in the air,” says Tito, evoking a silly cartoon image.
In a way, the play is like a drunk–sentimental and prone to self-pity. “The worst thing people do in this life is miss opportunities for love,” Tito proclaims. A crucifix hangs on the wall behind the stage, suggesting a parallel between the passion of Christ and the passion of Tito. When, during a hallucination, Tito recalls his mother saying that nothing hurts a mother more than to see her hijo seeking death, Tito explains, “It’s not that I’m seeking death. It’s just that sometimes things happen.”
Garcia is an affable presence onstage, and Orona displays versatility by switching easily from a silent, symbolic figure to a callow young woman. Her singing voice tends to be a bit shrill, but she infuses the mournful songs, sung in Spanish, with feeling.
Despite their talent, Tito still has no rudder. It sails aimlessly through 90 long minutes, unguided by any clear purpose or idea. There are isolated moments that are funny and interesting, but they remain isolated and make the entire effort seem a bit childish and naive.