Tearing it up
Sacramento State6000 J St.
Sacramento, CA 95819
A zoot suit is vivid. The colorful and conspicuous ensemble includes baggy pants, oversized jacket, dangling chains, pointy Italian shoes and a matching felt hat replete with a long feather.
Luis Valdez uses the image and powerful emotions associated with the style for the name of his 1978 masterwork Zoot Suit, with music by Lalo Guerrero. The production currently playing at Sacramento State’s University Theatre is a collaboration between the Theatre and Dance Department and Teatro Espejo.
Manuel Jose Pickett directs the huge cast—his farewell to the Chicano theater program as he retires after 32 years—and the production shines with living memory of both the style of dress and the issues that inspired the zoot-suit riots in 1940s Los Angeles.
The story follows the fate of Henry “Hank” Reyna (Jose Perales) and his personified zoot-suit id, credited only as El Pachuco (Martin J. Rodriguez). A minor gang scuffle ends with Hank and his friends being tried for a murder they didn’t commit.
The true impact of this production lies in the costumes. Designer Audrey Walker brings to life the detailed pachuco “drapes” and iconic ’40s fashion.
Rodriguez captures the audience before a word is spoken when he steps onstage and slowly dresses himself in pachuco armor. His black attire contrasts excellently with Hank’s white. Perales plays Hank with conviction and takes the audience through the trials of an oppressed and indignant defendant.
Big laughs came from many onstage, but standout comic timing lives in the 38th Street Gang’s lawyer, George Shearer (Antonio Tito Juarez) and Hank’s ebullient father Enrique (Alan Arroyo).
The large cast keeps the setting and place concrete for the audience. El Pachuco leads three Pachuca Singers (Bethany Beam, Jenna Cedusky, Rebecca Yarbrough) in swing-dance numbers that envelop the stage in dancing.
Luis Valdez’s work stands as a testament to the misrepresentation and stereotyping of Latino youth and their culture. Sac State’s execution captures that message, creating a visual atmosphere rife with unrest and frustration.