GHOSTS, HISTORY AND MADNESS: THE STORY OF CARLOTA, MAXIMILIAN, AND THE TRUE TALE OF CINCO DE MAYO
This spring the San Jose Stage will take you back in time to Belgium then to 1863 in France and Mexico. As we witness the madness of princess Carlota, the wife of the Emperor of Mexico and Belgium. Luis Valdez’s stunning new play ADIOS MAMA CARLOTA is now at the San Jose stage through April 28th. Valdez and his award winning El Teatro Campesino partner with the SJ Stage to premiere a play about a short, little-known period of Mexican history. Artistic Director of the SJSC Randall King says Valdez is a cultural influencer: “Luis reveals the shaping and evolution of a society, retelling the experiences of those who lived it in a modern language that speaks to our identity”.
Valdez says about his new work “Chicanos are aware of their roots; We have been influenced and shaped by Europe. The Spanish brought their language and their culture and it became ours. I wanted to explore a part of history that has not been dealt with too often”. Director Kinan Valdez has cast an excellent company to tell this story of mad european ghosts from the past that shaped Mexican History.
The first act opens in a Belgium insane asylum in 1924. Carlota is a women close to death who can barely walk as she stares at her past in front of a painting of herself. The terrific Allison Rich as Mama Carlota brings a compelling performance to the Princess. Allison is one of my favorite SJSC members who always brings 200% to whatever project I have seen on this San Jose stage, she is now associate artistic director for the company. Rich proves she is a bold actor, with her show stopping transitions as she swings from madness and two time periods.
ADIOS MAMA CARLOTA tells the love novella for both Mexico and Maximilian and the princess Carlota. The Emperor's wife ruled with Max for two years then he was killed by a firing squad in Mexico. The battle and his death is still celebrated today called “Cinco De Mayo”. Carlota then returns to Europe where she is sent to an Insane Asylum for almost sixty years. Valdez brings back the dark ghosts in ADIOS MAMA CARLOTA and Carlota's memories come back to haunt her.
Carlota tells her chamber women "I am just a reflection of your sins" as she opens a trunk of memories. The history of Carlota and Maximilian's brief rule in Mexico, flashes back to 1866 and Rich transforms from an old lady to a powerful young woman. She is set to be a New World empress that demands her new subjects to “bend the knee”. Max played by the vibrant Will Springhorn Jr. was more of a people's man in love with Mexico's flowers, butterflies and birds rather than have people to fear him. Carlota tells him "your tragedy is that you are easy to love but impossible to fear" as Max passes gas causing Mama to cringe with disgust (and the sold out opening night audience laughs).
The supporting cast is excellent and includes the SFBACC award winning actor Edward Hightower, who plays one of the many Ghosts, and the characters Bazaine and Reidel, all colorful performances. The dynamic Martin Roja Dietrich also brings much witt to his Ghosts, and the sharp Napoleon III who is a shakespearean clown. Dietrich also is foolish as Don Felipe the Archbishop of Mexico. The young mistress, Pepito played by the keen Jessica Osegueda is seduced by Maximilian. The elegant Estrella Esparza-Johnson plays the love blind wives, Eugenie and Manuela, to both Napoleon and Don Felipe. Local favorite Sean Okuniewicz plays with authentic class a Belgian soldier Alfred Van der Smissen and lover of Carlota. Rounding out the cast in various roles is the flawless Noé Yaocoatl Montoya.
Director Kinan Valdez brings a horror ghostly feel to the subtext of the play sometimes a farce, a soap opera and an Addams Family episode. But the serious historic pages are a interesting tail of imperialism madness as Carlota holds her own. I remember the crazed white face Bette Davis playing the Empress in the 1939 film version with wonderful hats. The dark costumes of Madeline Berger bring a ghostly effect to each actors look as their costumes seem to disappear or fall into dead ashes. The gowns for Carlota are cemetery white and flowing with signs of death and madness. I loved the look of the cast. President Lincoln drops by in this wonderful endless top hat that is a subtext to his assassination. Berger’s ghost punk look is topped off by marvelous wig designer Sharon Ridge.
Michael Palumbo’s lighting and set design is mainly a backdrop aided by the effective projections designed by Dante Carballo and Garland Thompson, Jr. The historic film clips and images keep this ghost story clever and easy to follow. The props of trunks, throans, fans canes and candle opera’s are well designed by Caitlin Elizabeth and Yvonne Vo. Stage manager Jack Myles keeps the cast in place and the many costume changes have to happen fast as the story moves from the 1800’s to the 20’s in just a moment's time. Sound designer Steve Schoenbeck keeps the room erie and the subtle effects progress the story.
The world premiere of ADIOS MAMA CARLOTA by The SJ Stage and El Teatro Campesino is one of the best combos in Bay Area Theatre. Valdez’s new work is engaging fun, a haunting tale of love and politics, and full of Mexican history that needs to be told. Next up at SJSC is their summer production of the Jukebox favorite MAMMA MIA that opens June 1. Luis Valdez next project is commissioned by the MARK TAPER FORUM in Los Angeles. It will tell the history of the Filipino farmers who worked alongside the Mexicans in the great grape strike of 1964’. Valdez plans to call the new work THE SONG OF THE MANONG. But in the meantime join the madness of Mama Carlota and her historic Ghosts, this is a must see.
The San Jose Stage Company Presents
the World Premiere
In partnership with El Teatro Campesino
ADIÓS MAMÁ CARLOTA
By Luis Valdez
Directed by Kinan Valdez
Must close April 28th
The San Jose Stage
490 South 1st Street San Jose Ca
Running time two hours with one intermission
Photos by DAVE LEPORI
INTERVIEW WITH LUIS VALDEZ ABOUT HIS NEW PLAY
The cast of ADIÓS MAMÁ CARLOTA Allison F. Rich* as “Carlota,” Will Springhorn Jr. as “Maximilian/Lincoln,” Martin Rojas Dietrich* as “Napoleon III/Archbishop/Don Felipe/Miramon” Edward Hightower* as “Bazaine/Riedel,” Estrella Ezparza-Johnson as “Eugenie/Manuela,” Jessica Osegueda as “Conchita/Pepita/Margarita,” Sean Okuniewicz as “Van der Smissen/Franz Josef” and Noé Yaocoatl as “Sedano/Benito Juarez/Mejia.”
The creative team includes Jack D. Myles* (Production Stage Manager), Michael Palumbo (Scenic Designer/Lighting Designer), Madeline Berger (Costume Designer), Garland Thompson Jr. (Projections Designer), Dante Carballo (Projections Consultant), Steve Schoenbeck (Sound Designer), Caitlin Elizabeth and Yvonne Vo (Props Leads), Keith Pinto* (Choreographer) and Robert Pickering (Master Carpenter).
THE DIVA BETTE DAVIS AS CARLOTA - 1939
VIDEO COVERAGE OF OPENING NIGHT APRIL 6TH 2019 - WITH NICHOLAS JAOCHICO