photo by Tim Fuller
Orlando (Francisco Javier Gonzalez), at right, shows off his arrogant attitude toward his father, Mando (Gabriel Marin), a self-made success in American business.
When I was a little kid in grade school, all of us little kids took pride in believing America was a big melting pot, just like how all the grown-ups were so proud to say it was.
We knew we were lucky to live in a unique nation where people from all over the world could come to stay and be accepted equally.
Now today, several decades later, nobody talks about America's melting pot anymore. We are all constantly reminded that melting pot was a bogus idea in the first place. It was never true.
Arizona Theatre Company is here to remind us, too, with a crisp production of playwright christopher oscar pena's (he prefers lower case letters) “How To Make An American Son.”
That American son is 16-year-old Orlando (Francisco Javier Gonzalez) spoiled rotten by his father Mando (Gabriel Marin) who immigrated to the United States from Honduras as a penniless young man.
Filled with ambition and always eager to please, Mando believed in that American Dream and he prospered. As the play opens in the “early 2000s,” Mando now owns a successful cleaning company “in Silicon Valley” where his employees (also Hispanic) keep other companies' modern corporate offices spotlessly clean.
Mando is proud of his success in American business, and rightly so. He believes he has earned the kind of respect that must be appreciated. But Orlando, the adolescent son, has no time for that. He only wants more of his father's money to spend on being a cool teen.
This is not the kind of American son Mando worked so hard to raise. Too late Mando has learned no matter where you are in life – rich, poor, smooth-talking insider or awkward English-speaking immigrant – there are going to be problems.
Mando's flawless English spoken with a light Latin accent is very confident. While Orlando, in contrast, has a pure American accent to go with his privileged consumer lifestyle, as well as American impatience when things don't go his way.
The play's director, Kimberly Senior, is meticulous in balancing out these dueling family personalities. Tucson, in this respect, is particularly suited as a Southwestern border town to appreciate how American pop culture does not include many Spanish language influences.
Mando's valued employee Mercedes (Cristela Alonzo) has a powerful melt-down scene declaring that she was born in California, but has always been treated like a Mexican, never like a natural-born American. You will be shaken by this scene, no matter what your skin color.
Adding sexual prejudice to the race message of “How To Make An American Son,” Orlando finds his life becoming more complicated and tragically confused when he is romantically attracted to another boy his age, an American son of a different color.
Performances run 90 minutes, continuing through June 25 in the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave., with performances at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m. only on Friday.
Tickets are $40-$73. For details and reservations, 1-833-ATC-SEAT (1-833-282-7328) or visit www.atc.org
Ticket holders will receive ATC's latest official health regulations by email. At present, shot records and masks are not required, but the ATC staff is masked and suggests audience members remain masked in the theater.