Playwright Jonathan Ceniceroz deals with some major themes and ideas in his new play, The Cruise. Set aboard the high-end, luxury ship Majestic cruising the Caribbean, the play deals with multiple overlapping themes—ethnic identity, sexual identity, current politics, ambition, social justice and family dynamics. Ramón Garcia (Ric Salinas of Culture Clash) is more or less a stowaway aboard ship, posing as a guest lecturer on the indigenous people of the Caribbean. A kind of flim-flam man, he has a history as a radical social activist who has been thrown out of several colleges and universities where he was a guest speaker advocating for or against some cause or other. What they are is not clear, though one could guess. As played by Salinas, he is an enthusiastic, engaging man full of brio, who dominates whatever situation he is in.
Ramón has inveigled his twenty-something son, James (Kenneth Lopez) into joining him in his escapade. James keeps his father at a distance for good reason. In his enthusiasm for social activism, Ramón essentially left his family behind. Now James, handsome and well mannered, an NYU graduate with literary ambitions, is himself at loose ends. His relationship with an older man has dissolved and there is a certain sad softness to James.
An engaging couple from Arizona, Judith (Carolyn Almos) and Howard (Gary Lamb), upper-middle class people made wealthy by an inheritance, make friends with James and Ramón. A very lovey-dovey pair, they are quite self-satisfied, and proudly reveal that they are conservatives of the good, reasonable sort. Howard is determined to have a good time, indulging in everything the ship offers, the booze, the food, and the sea air. The drinks flow freely and he is not above indulging in a toke. Judith has political ambitions back in Arizona, supporting a Latino man as a conservative candidate in an upcoming election. She takes a shine to young James, and tries to recruit him as a writer for the campaign.
And finally there is the enigmatic Boyd (Brian Wallace), the ship’s cruise director. Boyd speaks in a fascinating German accent that is leavened with something faintly indefinable. Turns out that Boyd and Ramón know each other from an earlier time on a less elegant ship. There is a grating relationship between them with sexual overtones.
There are competing threads in the weave of this play, billed as a comedy. There are many references to the Arawak people and the tragedy of Columbus, as well as the clash of family, politics, the rub of sexual identity, the yearning for place in society, the erosion of ethnic identity, and more. It is an interesting, ambitious piece with an excellent cast. The play, however, wanders a bit, unfocussed in the looseness of ideas and the plethora of incidents. One of the characters leaps off the ship and tries to swim ashore. I am sure that is a metaphor, but specifically of what, I do not know.
The Latino Theater Company’s production of The Cruise, directed by Heath Cullens, runs through April 9 at The Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles.