Magna, Terribilis, and Videndum est are only a few Latin words we could use to describe American Mariachi at Goodman Theatre. What we can say in English is that Goodman has a major hit on its hand. American Mariachi features all Latin performers, with five powerful and talented ladies, who will make you laugh, cry and laugh some more. Latin music has always been about the rhythm and beats and sharing its rich history, and American Mariachi brings that theme of love to life.
While caring for her ailing mother, Lucha looks to change her life to something more meaningful. Feeling lost, she finds a forgotten record, and while listening to it, her mother sitting in a chair next to her regains her memory. Excited to see a spark of life in her mother, Lucha joins with her cousin Boli and comes up with an audacious idea to create an all-female mariachi band during the ’70s when mariachi bands were typically male-dominated groups.
Afraid that her father (Federico), who believes that familia comes first and would disapprove, she secretly brings together three other ladies Isabel, Gabby, and Soyla. Still, none of them have ever played an instrument. Having no experience and lacking any understanding of the tradition of a Mariachi band, Lucha seeks the help of her father’s former best friend, Mino. Reluctant to help because of a misunderstanding with her father, Federico, that caused the friends never to speak again, he caves in when he learns that Amalia is ailing. Mino trains them on how to embrace the discipline and traditions of Mariachi while helping them blend as a female band, which at first seemed impossible. Together the ladies find the true meaning of friendship and womanhood while reaffirming their roles without succumbing to gender-specific stereotypes.
Playwright Jose Cruz Gonzalez, a professor at California State University, who wrote Under a Baseball Sky, Among the Darkest Shadows and The Astronaut Farmworker, brings another one of his written plays to Goodman, American Mariachi. American Mariachi speaks on equality and the ability to live out your dreams during a time when a diverse group of women came into their own during the ’70s during the Women’s rights movement as they sought equal rights and opportunities and greater personal freedom.
Goodman made an excellent choice with casting Tiffany Soiano (Lucha), Lucy Godinez (Boli), Molly Hernandez (Isabel), Gloria Vivica Benavides (Soyla), Amanda Raquel Martinez, and Gigi Cervantes as Amalia. All but Godinez were making their debut at Goodman, and what a fantastic start. We loved the chemistry between the ladies, as they brought their mariachi magic to the stage, which is a must in a place like Chicago, where Mariachi music is iconic.
Also featured at Goodman was veteran actor Ricardo Gutierrez, who performed at a plethora of Chicagoland theaters. He was an excellent choice as Federico, the father of Lucha and husband to Amalia. Another actor making his Goodman debut was Bobby Plasencia as Mino. Gutierrez and Plasencia added to the all-around dominant performances’; however, nothing could compare to Christopher Llewyn Ramirez’s, who almost stole to show with his short and lively performance as Mateo.
Victor Pichardo does a remarkable job teaching the ladies, which neither had previous training with their instruments, how to play mariachi music. This very complex style celebrates the struggles, joys, and growth of the Latino people.
Mariachi music, or traditional Mexican folk music, has long been dominated by men; however, American Mariachi provides the audience with a rare treat featuring; an all-female band. As a result, women Mariachis, known as Mariacheras, are popping up nationwide. Mariachi provides a unique and unmistakable sound, blends specific instruments, and combines a distinctive singing style. Goodman even delighted the incoming audience with a live female mariachi band.
After a seventeen-month delay, which included a start and stop in Dallas, Tx, Gloria Vivici Benavides reflects on how complex their reality was; however, she concluded that coming back to the crew was a magical experience that helped therapeutically heal the group.
Mariachi in Chicago is rich in its culture and traditions. Originating in the Mexican state of Jalisco, The Chicago Mariachi Project, founded in 2013, offers mariachi classes at elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the cities of Chicago. In addition, the Mariachi Heritage Foundation, the National Museum of Mexican Arts, and The Mariachi Institute of Chicago are community youth organizations devoted to cultivating, educating, and embracing mariachi music.
From beginning to end, this 95-minute play will inspire and delight your soul with its rich cultural music and love, where tradition and family come first, but a daughters’ love rings supreme. We talked about Broadway plays on our weekly radio show, Let’s Stay Together Talk, and American Mariachi should be headed in that direction.
Let’s Play Highly Recommends American Mariachi at Goodman Theatre.
By Jose’ Cruz Gonzalez
Directed by Henry Godinez
September 18-October 24
Filed under: ChicagoNow