When I entered the steep bowl of the Los Angeles Theatre Center’s Auditorium 3, I was impressed by the set and the lighting designs of Emily MacDonald and Cameron Mock. A circular, two-steps up platform with a plush bed and a nightstand dominates up stage. A translucent circular curtain soars upward with a circular window above. The stage is dressed with modest tables and chairs down stage, with an ottoman down right and a serving station left. The feeling of it all is spacious.
When the lights dim, a guitarist (Robert Revell) enters dressed ranchero style and playing slow, emotional music on his electric guitar as he works his way to his station down right.
The action starts with the sound of great winds blowing off stage and the entry of Molly (Elia Saldana) and her two children, 13 year-old Alex (Saul Nieto) and his older sister Cindy (Victoria Tamez), a high schooler. The wind sounds fierce and the players fight it with elaborate choreography and eventually get the door closed and the action begins.
These are unhappy people. Molly is overwrought with a failing marriage and a husband who has left her as well as a domestic crisis caused by a nanny who has also walked out on her. Her ambition to gain a partnership at work is yet another slow burn. Cindy is a grouchy high-schooler, and her brother, Alex, has gender issues. He likes to wear make-up. Her husband, John (a conflicted Randy Vasquez) shows up and the two of them are bitter and clash, but neither one can break the bond.
Saul Nieto and Esperanza America. Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography.
Molly’s gardener, Pablo, offers up his daughter Juana (Esperanza América in glowing performance) as a nanny candidate. As played by Eduardo Roman, Pablo is the essence of honor. Juana’s entrance with a green umbrella is where Mexican magical realism enters and I felt the warm glow of recollection (more below*). Juana soon takes control of the children who, of course, don’t think much of her, but her skills and demeanor eventually win the day.
Music rules in Sleep with the Angels. Esperanza América has a glorious, powerful voice and brings others in with her. It matters not that the songs are in Spanish. The passion is palpable and my psyche could automatically pick out the gist if not whole phrases.
There is plenty of comedy in Sleep with the Angels that engenders warm audience responses. But as the show darkens, the strong passions of conflict eventually get ugly before the satisfying denouement. This play has it all and must be seen before it is gone. I loved it and once again led the standing ovation, a must if one happens to be sitting down front.
Kudos to the other creatives: sound designer John Zalewski; choreographer Urbanie Lucero; and casting director Blanca Valdez. The stage manager is Henry “Heno” Fernandez.
*Two years after the turn of the century, I had the great good fortune to be hired by Luis Valdez to play the lawyer George Shearer in El Teatro Campesino’s 2002 production of Zoot Suit. The show ran for six months and I was fully embraced by the company. And we did again in 2007. The joy of Mexican-American Theatre has never left me.
Sleep with the Angels runs through June 26 with performances on
Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 4pm at
The Los Angeles Theatre Center
514 S. Spring Street
Los Angeles CA 90013
• $5 with box office validation, Joe’s Parking structure, 530 S. Spring St. (immediately south of the theater)
• Metered parking available on streets surrounding the theater.
• Take the Metro: nearest stop is Pershing Square (two blocks west of The LATC).
• Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays: $48
• Students, seniors and veterans: $22
• Thursdays: $10 (available online beginning the Monday prior to each performance)