Shakespeare meets Hispanic/Chicano/Mexican stereotypes meet Mad Max’s Thunderdome for a fun and lively night of outdoor theater. Lively is the key here. There was never a dull moment in the new production of El Henry written by the talented actor/playwright Herbert Siguenza [founding member of Culture Clash] and directed by Sam Woodhouse, a San Diego institution. It is also unique in that the setting of the play at SILO, a new space in East Village, lends itself to the production and atmosphere of the play. The play is produced by the La Jolla Playhouse and WoW [Without walls, a La Jolla Playhouse initiative] in association with the San Diego Repertory Theater, and Makers Quarter. The play is held outdoors with lawn chair seating and a dirt floor as the stage.
El Henry is set in a grim, apocalyptic future  in San Diego, now called Aztlan City. All the Gringos have fled east of the Rockies and what is left are three warring gangs of Latinos led by El Hank [the regal John Padilla], the supreme leader. Like Henry the IV, the play it is loosely based on, El Hanks’ power and authority are being contested by El Bravo [Kinan Valdez], the nephew of a rival gang leader. Hank’s own son, El Henry [Lakin Valdez], is estranged from his father, and only interested in having a good time. It is a universal story of family relations, loyalty, and in the end, the prodigal son reuniting with his father, fighting for the family honor, and coming into his own. It may be a familiar story with a predictable ending, but it is a fun ride along the way.
Kinan and Lakin Valdez, sons of Luis Valdez who founded El Teatro Campesino, are talented and charismatic actors. You can’t take your eyes off them. Kinan is menacing and macho as El Bravo. Kinan starts as a more laid-back character, but turns into a fierce warrior. This reviewer also thought they had sex appeal. The rest of the cast is equally talented, including the spry and very funny Herbert Siguenza as Fausto, Dave Rivas as the Duke of Earl, and the fierce and mesmerizing Roxane Carrasco who plays Chiqui with a patch over one eye. In addition, she is a good singer. All the cast displayed great energy, moving all around the set tirelessly, running up down ladders to get to adjacent rooftops as the surrounding buildings were also part of the set, and staging some brilliant fighting. The energy was palpable.
The costume designs tended to be very Mad Max meets Thunderdome, but they added to the bleak and futuristic atmosphere of the play. The usage of Spanish slang or “Calo” also provided flair and the playbill included a glossary with translations in the back. Finally, because the play was outdoors on a dirt floor, this allowed the usage of some gorgeous vintage cars to be driven onto the set which was a special treat. Also, the “al fresco” location in East Village with motorcycles and sirens going by and some homeless people close to the entrance gave the play a raw and authentic feel. All in all, it was an enjoyable evening. If you are looking for something different and innovative with a talented, dedicated, and lively cast, this play is for you.
Herbert Siguenza, who now calls San Diego home, is making a name for himself in local theater. His next project will be on Abby Hoffman with a special Jewish connection.
El Henry runs until June 29th. SILO in Makers Quarters is located at 753 15th St in East Village. Tickets are $25 and all seats are general admission. For more information, go to www.lajollaplayhouse.org