Ese, you shine like a diamond.
Flash is about more than a fancy suit or a pretty dress in the pachuco culture; it means finding a way to express identity and community in the midst of a majority culture that despises your difference. It’s about seeing one’s own beauty despite the message from the powerful that all you are is ugly.
That message is at the heart of Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit, currently in production by Teatro Espejo under the direction of Manuel J. Pickett. Based on the 1942 Sleepy Lagoon murder case in Los Angeles, Zoot Suit tells the story of Henry Reyna, his family and friends, after more than 20 young men and boys were charged with a murder they didn’t commit. Infused with the big-band boogie dance music of the time and draped in colorful dress wear, Zoot Suit fuses fashion and dance with the birth of the political Chicano culture in the West. It’s also a reminder that if we tap the vein of the Chicano culture, we find ourselves in the ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures.
The focal points of this tale are Henry (Jose Perales) and his alter-ego, El Pachuco (Ruben Oriol-Rivera), the hip, slick and ultracool embodiment of machismo and political awareness. The two exhibit a symbiotic chemistry that propels the story forward, as El Pachuco alternately goads and persuades Henry into action, until Henry finally decides which parts of El Pachuco he wants to retain and which to reject.
With a good supporting cast, exuberantly wild dancing, well-choreographed fight scenes, family drama and political posturing, Zoot Suit is a well-done reminder of California history and a reminder of those who sacrificed in the pursuit of justice.