Magical Artistry Captured in "Mariela in the Desert"

Director Robert Beltran brings Karen Zacarias' award-winning play to Casa 0101. Runs through December 11th

By Elia Esparza
Published on LatinoLA: November 17, 2016

Magical Artistry Captured in "Mariela in the Desert"

Karen Zacarias' award-winning play, "Mariela in the Desert," is currently playing in Los Angeles through December 11, 2016. The production, directed by Robert Beltran, is presented by Casa 0101 and the Angel City Theater Ensemble. It stars Rachel Gonzalez as Mariela, wife to tortured painter Jose Salvatierra played by Vance Valencia; Jose's spinster sister Olivia is played by Denise Blasor; in the role of daughter Blanca Salvatierra is Vannessa Vasquez; son Carlos Salvatierra is portrayed by Kenneth Lopez and Randy Vasquez is the American art professor, Adam Lovitz.

"Mariela in the Desert" is the tale of two artists-- husband and wife, Jose and Mariela Salvatierra, who are dealing with their own self-inflicted despair. Mariela decides to squash her artistic passions for the sake of family. The other, renowned artist Jose lives a bitter existence for never having achieved the status level of his rival, more famous artist competitors. He is also miserable because he is now dying, robbed of his health and freedom by diabetes. In their younger years, Jose and Mariela, were the toast of the tight knit art community, whose members included the likes of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, and their famous circle of international friends.

The story is set in the 1950's as we are invited into the exciting lives of the Salvatierra's. Upon the insistence of Jose, they move to the desert north of Mexico City where Jose is certain their creative spark will ignite. He is convinced, it is the perfect soulful place to build an artist colony, a place they can wine and dine their famous friends.

Mariela sacrifices her paintbrush in order to care for her family, most especially devoting the majority of time to care for disabled son, Carlos. With her artist life on hold she raises a precocious daughter, an autistic son and tends to a husband whose health and creativity is suffering, while Jose struggles with the reality and his art.

"The desert…will demand to be filled with art, with our vision of a better world."

Their daughter, Blanca finds growing up in the desert too lonely and isolating. She leaves to seek out her own artistic aspirations in Mexico City. There she falls in love with the charismatic and handsome art history professor, Adam Lovitz, a man enthralled with her raw talent, and the fact she's Jose Salvatierra's daughter, a painter he greatly admires, makes her all the more desirable.

There is magic in the desert setting, layered with mystery and haunting heartbreaks. It is an honest interpretation of a family torn apart by the choices they made and bear witness, watching their creativity die of thirst and float away like a rolling tumbleweed.

The actors have their work cut out for them, as they set out to bring the complex characters to life. Rachel Gonzalez, the unhappy Mariela, is the heart of the story. She is splendid as the repressed and guilt-ridden Mariela, a woman resigned to a life without art or passion, and most especially without her son, whose death keeps her guilt imprisoned. And, it can't be easy being Jose's punching bag with his rudeness and bitter verbal attacks. But she endures.

Vance Valencia holds nothing back as the tortured and self-loathing Jose Salvatierra, who knows he is a fraud and grips the secret that proves it. Olivia, the spinster sister played by Denise Blasor seems to want to ignore the underlying tension in the household and instead focuses on everything else. She brings a tenderness and weary sense of humor and sadness to her existence. She is a splendid actor who never fails.

Vannessa Vasquez as the beautiful daughter Blanca, struggles between the love for her brother and her mother's love, jealous of the time devoted to him, away from her. She adores her father and considers herself to be the holder of his legend.

Randy Vasquez, a seasoned actor of great range, brings a certain academic charm to the role of the American art professor, who is Blanca's lover and whom Mariela greatly distrusts. She doesn't want her daughter to fall under the same spell she did with Jose. While Kenneth Lopez does an excellent job of playing the special needs son. Embraced by his overprotective mother, he is possibly the single most reason the family is forced to confront their existence and forgive and accept life as it has been dealt. It is a physically challenging role that requires the actor to strike a realistic balance and not over act it. He nailed it!

"Mariela in the Desert" is much like a blank canvas – as each character is introduced, the brushstrokes and vibrant colors or tormenting darkness begin to fill the stage. Set Designer Marco DeLeon created a magical and colorful set that slowly reveals a dark secret at the center of the Salvatierra's turmoil. Director Robert Beltran (Renegades, Star Trek: Voyager) brings a multi-layered look at the complex Salvatierra family dynamic with a sensitivity, which seemingly stays true to Zacarias' story and metaphor nuances.

"Mariela in the Desert" is a must see quixotic experience. The production runs at Casa 0101 Theater, 2101 E. First Street, Los Angeles, CA 90033. Runs through December 11, 2016. For more info: casa0101.org or email info@casa0101.org. Casa 0101 is a non-profit, 501 (c)(3) organization dedicated to providing vital arts, cultural, and educational programs.

Running Time: 2 hrs.
Directed by: Robert Beltran
Starring: Denise Blasor, Rachel Gonzalez, Kenneth Lopez, Vance Valencia, Randy Vasquez and Vanessa Vasquez
Stage Manager: Deena Tovar
Set Designer: Marco Deleon
Lighting Designer: Kevin Vasquez

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