“Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe” by Theresa Chavez, Rose Portillo and Los Lobos’ Louie Pérez currently running at the Bootleg Theater taps a core in me. It alleges to cover ground I traveled, and labors to recreate moments that molded me.
The “Swinging Sixties”, where it all started on Sunset Blvd and Crescent Heights at an undersized bar called Pandora’s Box, squatting on a concrete island in November of 1966; it was ground zero for the “Riot on the Sunset Strip”. Peter Fonda was there, Jack Nicholson too; Sonny and Cher were there, so too was Gilligan’s Island star Bob Denver. Stephen Stills was there also and commemorated the night in the song, “For What It’s Worth” which became the decade’s unofficial anthem when recorded by Buffalo Springfield.
And a twelve-year-old me was there as well, caught up in the whirlwind of events that would bring forth the street people scene, the counter culture, “flower power”, the “era of protest” and the youth movement. I was enraptured by the excitement of it all and utterly oblivious to the mind-blowing, psychedelic, groovy love fest that would be my life in the decades to come.
If I could do it all over again – I’d do it twice!
But sadly, nothing even close to what the Sixties possessed is allowed to seep into the fabric of this production. So at the finish of this show you’re left with a painfully pedestrian, threadbare tale that was unable to benefit from a strong and committed cast and some kickass music.
The story is simple. Very simple. “See Dick. See Dick run.” simple.
Teenage Evangeline, to support her younger brother and recently widowed mother, works as a “go-go” dancer on the Strip. Her mother finds out she lied about her job “waitressing” and worse that she is dating a boy! Called a whore by her mother, Evangeline moves in with her politically active boyfriend and her sexually liberated fellow go-go dancer. She worries about her younger brother’s involvement with a student group agitating for Chicano rights and she’s sad when learning a cousin has died in Viet Nam. Her boyfriend moves to Canada to avoid the draft and she and her brother participate in a riot against the LAPD, after which she is reconciled with her mother. The end.
Regrettably, the synopsis you’ve just read conveys a fair rendering of the actual dramatic tension found in the staging of this show. The various parts which make up the story of the play hang on the narrative spine like damp sheets draped over a laundry line on a windless day. Nothing generates the least conflict or drama.
A beloved cousin dies and Evangeline cries – then she has a pillow fight. She and her brother face a phalanx of baton wielding racist police which brings about a rising of their political consciousness – then they go home and have dinner. The Sixties, a time of mind altering social revolution is given expression in some pretty lights.
Seemingly mounted in a vacuum, devoid of writing, directing or producing inspiration, what stands out most in this production is the solid work of its young cast who from opening scene to closing black out commit 122% to making it work. How successful they are in this, one could quibble over, yet in remembering that the Titanic band was able to quit playing once their feet got wet, the effort they make is inspiring.
In the title role Catherine Lidstone “struts her stuff” admirably, her only limitation being the material she’s been shackled with. As her mother, Danielle Barbosa succeeds in keeping breath in a stock character so cardboard that placed in the hands of a lesser actress the audience would have been distracted by reading “UPS” printed on its side. Daniel Chácon manages so deftly in his multi-role task you actually had the audience questioning if there’s only one actor playing them. Georgia Reed as Evangeline’s mentor in the world of cage dancing brings to her character both delineation and dimension. Jorge Diaz as Evangeline’s bother Ramon plays his role with an honest freshness. Karen Anzoategui as the black sheep cousin adds both robust humor and heartfelt humanity. Gina Gomez and Denisse Schwartz round out this talented ensemble.
Another highlight is of course the music of Los Lobos with Louie Pérez of the Grammy Award-winning band as the only member of the show’s creative triumvirate who lived up to his obligations. Music was the heartbeat of the Sixties, and its presence here aids immensely in keeping the show from flat-lining. Fans will enjoy hearing “River of Fools”, “Revolution”, and the titular tune “Evangeline” served up with finely skilled force by The Neighborhood Band (Alexandro Hernandez, Walter Miranda, Alfredo Ortiz and Uros Raskovski), under the musical direction of Scott Rodarte.
Claudia “Cava” Gonzalez-Tenorio sadly stands out as another instance of talent misused. Billed as “The Neighborhood” she wanders unseen among the players a mishmash of “Three Penny Opera’s” Street-Singer and Elwood P. Dowd’s Pooka. Now Cava is a powerhouse singer with a voice that could knock a big man on his back at thirty paces, but here again no thought has been given to her integration into the fabric of the drama. So she seems to be like a loose thread, without a sweater even, left to dangle in space.
Choreographer Michele Bachar encapsulates the Sixties dance mode and wonderfully conveys the free form gyrating with finesse.
Set designer Francois-Pierre Couture, lighting designer Jeremy Pivnick and video designer Claudio Rocha each fulfill the demands of their crafts soundly but suffer from the seeming lack of guidance or unifying vision. Hence, instead of fusing into any sort of statement expressing a dramatic integrity the efforts of Couture, Pivnick and Rocha exist in isolation of each other. Couture’s sets are intriguing but are never able to rise above mere serviceability. Rocha’s videos display a superior sense of concept and execution and should have contributed solidly to the production if employed in the kaleidoscopic style so distinctive of the period; alas they are either washed out by Pivnick’s lighting or confined to Couture’s diminutive set pieces for which they are ill suited, thus robbing the videos of their impact.
The Bootleg itself is a marvelous venue for this sort of show and you have some fine acting and even finer tunes to make this evening enjoyable enough, but sadly you won’t find anything even approaching the majestic or mind blowing fantastical in “Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe” because two thirds of her production team treated her like “The Pauper of the Prosaic”.
Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe
2220 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90057
General Admission (except May 20): $32
Benefit Performance (May 20): $75
Music Night (May 26): call for pricing
Groups of 6 or more: $25 per ticket (except May 20); use promo code EVAGROUPS
Thursdays @ 7 pm*: May 24
Fridays @ 7 pm*: May 25, June 1
Saturdays @ 7 pm*: 26**, June 2
Sundays @ 2 pm: May 20, 27
*Please note early 7 pm curtain time
**In celebration of the premiere run of Evangeline, the Queen of Make-Believe a “Music Night” featuring Ollin and special guests will be presented on Saturday, May 26, immediately following the performance of Evangeline.