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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
I don't know how much persuasion playwright Leon Martell needed to write an ice cream truck into Ice, his world premiere commission for the 24th Street Theatre. But once said-vehicle made it to the page and subsequently to the stage, director Deborah Devine and her crew certainly knew where to locate one. The same vehicle played a role in 2016's Man Covets Bird, a play also directed by Devine that had similar enchantment in its pages and in its wheels.
Where Bird was an allegorical fable, Ice is a cautionary and topical tale that gently and poignantly examines the price of chasing one's dreams. Set in a 1988 Los Angeles that still feels recognizable, the production turns a skeptical but still-hopeful lens upon the American Dream and decides that integrity, sacrifice and, sure, maybe a little bit of magic are what's necessary to make it happen. Sensitive both to the play's subject matter and to the surrounding community, 24th St. Theatre stages Ice in both English and Spanish, with supertitles filling in the gaps, often projected on the aforementioned ice cream truck.
Chepe (Jesus Castanos-Chima), the play's supremely conflicted hero, is an ordinary man from Sineloa, Mexico who played baseball in his home country and claims to have taught L.A. Dodgers pitching sensation Fernando Valenzuela his screwball. Understanding that that boast is worthless even if true, Chepe scrapes and hustles to make a living in L.A. He is cheated and mistreated by bosses at every odd job in large measure because he's in the country illegally and has no way of fighting back. So Chepe gets his cousin Nacho (Tony Duran) to cross the border and join him in L.A. to jump start a gourmet food truck business. On a parallel track, a blind Irish priest (Davitt Felder) is struggling to make inroads with the young immigrant parishioners in a neighborhood church. The Father and Chepe cross paths frequently, and the two men could learn a thing or two from each other.
1988 is proving to be a magical season for the hometown Dodgers. But, just his luck, the temperamental car radio crackles in and out whenever Chepe tries to tune in [to]the ballgame from the seen-better-days truck which holds the weight of his dreams. Chepe envisions tacos crafted with a salsa recipe supplied by a Sineloa relative, but darned if that truck (which used to sell ice cream) doesn't have a mind of its own.
With Nacho in tow, Chepe drives all over town, hawking his tacos while trying to win a radio contest seeking out the most American food truck in the city. Along the way, he starts to lose his spirit and his integrity, and begins cutting ethical corners and treating Nacho the same way all of those lousy employers treated him. Periodically, the stage darkens, a bunch of weird flashing lights come up and the two men have to flee for cover to escape the approach of ICE agents.
His worn and lined face bearing decades' worth of slights and misses, Castanos-Chima renders Chepe simultaneously as a victim, a heel, and a man to root for. The character is flawed and we see the conflict, but the actor isn't overworking the sympathy. As Ice's good-hearted naif, Duran's Nacho functions as Chepe's mirror but also manages to be his own man. That he's a pixie-ish former baseball player who likes to sing while juggling tomatoes makes the character all the more engaging. Kudos also to Felder who does expert triple duty as the priest and &emdash; via video &emdash; as the array of Chepe's victimizing former employers.
Running a brisk 70 minutes, Devine's production has an all-ages appeal, offering with something for adults, kids and certainly fans of the L.A. Dodgers. Playwright Martell has laced in equal dollops of pain, heart, wisdom and, sure, even hope for an America that we're still waiting for. Nacho and Chepe may get there yet, especially if they can use a magical ice cream truck to teach them that sweetness still exists in the world.
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Ice by Leon Martell
Directed by Debbie Devine
Cast: Jesus Castanos-Chima, Tony Duran, Davitt Felder
Set Design: Keith Mitchel
Video Design: Matthew G. Hill
Lighting Design: Dan Weingarten
Sound Design Chris Moscatiello
Costume Design: Shannon A. Kennedy
Classical Guitar: Kenton Youngstrom
Sports Announcer: Darryl Johnson
Spanish Voiceover: Jazmin N. Morales Production Stage Manager: Alexx Zachary
Plays through June 24 at the 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles (213) 745-6516, www.24thstreet.org.
Running time: One Hour and 10 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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