Writer/actor Luis Alfaro in “St. Jude” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre
Photo by Craig Schwartz
Written and Performed by Luis Alfaro
Directed by Robert Egan
Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City, Calif.
Through Oct. 6, 2013
I am tempted to simply say, ‘Wow’ and leave my comments about “St. Jude” at that. But that would be to give short shrift to Luis Alfaro’s riveting monologue playing in repertoire at the Kirk Douglas for three short weeks. Mind you, all this hoopla is coming from someone who normally eschews the solo plowing of autobiographical material. “Tell it to your therapist, please. I paid to listen to you tell a story; you should be the one paying someone else, like that therapist, to do the listening. Maybe you would get some help hearing yourself so you can get out of the mess you’re in.” Luis Alfaro is never guilty of this charge.
MacArthur “genius” fellow Alfaro’s monologue tills his father’s two-year terminal slide for personal and family material: but he never confuses sentiment with the sentimental. Most importantly, he never loses sight of his primary mission, to entertain. Never masturbatory, always poetic, some times funny, often touching and thought provoking, Alfaro’s story is both universal and totally personal.
His family at Christmas was a “Mexican Norman Rockwell painting.” But he has spent his life “trying to wash religion off of “ himself and fled that picture-perfect vision of home at age 16. Now he sees his father “splayed on a gurney.” Like so many of us who have watched a parent slowly slip away he has the sad sense, “How little my father knows me.” It is impossible to bridge that gap at this late date. Yet despite his being aware of the gulf between them, he becomes closer to his dad over the duration of those waning years. Seriously overweight, Alfaro sees the fate of his father foreshadowing his own, but he does not dwell on it. His was a house that expressed love in food. But really, whose house doesn’t?
Alfaro structures his story against a simple projected map of Highway 99 and the route his family followed to Orange County. He tells his story anchored by a series of locations: Visalia, Hanford – the list is familiar to anyone who traveled Highway 99 before Highway 5 whisked one past those towns with no sense of the lives, mostly Chicano, lived in the Central Valley. The map is the allegory of his family’s struggles. His story is periodically punctuated by his walking over to a table where he does something that appears to be like the pinprick a diabetic must make to test his blood sugar; he then returns to the overhead projector and makes a fingerprint on the line connecting the stops along the way. Director Robert Egan leaves the set spare and does little to interfere with his star’s animated presentation. If my interpretation of what happens at the table is right, perhaps a closeup projection of the scene would assist the audience behind the second row. If I am wrong, all the more reason for the projection so we could figure out what the hell was going on.
Let us not be sidetracked. Luis Alfaro is a marvelously poetic storyteller, and “St. Jude” is a tale of love and reality, told with humor and vitality. It is definitely worth checking out.