“CLOUD TECTONICS”: PROBABLY THE BEST THING EVER STAGED AT LB PLAYHOUSEBy Greggory Moore
You’re a bastard, José, for writing such a time-pulverizing play, this Cloud Tectonics, a miracle of magical realism whose language is careful to transcend the merely evocative by infusing your poetry with meaning, the flourishes and tropes propelling story and theme to its climatic consummation. You’ve given us Celestina del Sol, pregnant and hitchhiking at a bus stop on a torrentially rainy night in Los Angeles, picked up by kindly Anibal de la Luna on his way home from a shift on the tarmac at LAX. She’s searching for her baby’s father, lusting for the only man whose touch she’s known and struggling to comprehend chronology, which she warps like a white dwarf, gravitationally compressing her spacetime in her own supernova-summoning way.
You’re a bastard for how you integrate the carnal and the sublime, versification and the quotidian, flesh-and-blood humans with literary spirits, how each effective idiosyncrasy pays off as something more. You’re a son-of-a-bitch for Celestina’s and Anibal’s reveries, how they transport us to frozen patches of memorious landscape without bogging down the tale of one night that was “the love of a lifetime” in every way but the cliché. You’re a motherfucker for the minor moments of humor in just the right measure, for injecting a third character that should ruin the balance but instead adds multiple levels and reduces our expectations to dust, for not missing a goddamn trick.
Olivia, you’re beautiful for bringing the bastard to the stage this way, for drawing us in with that opening silhouette, for playing on the figurative plane of motion, a place where the simple offer of a jacket and the complex psychology of conversational circling and wary approach are made manifest by the moves of your marvelous cast. Eres hermosa for the blue-lit establishment shot of Anibal’s Craftsman-style home, for the wall-to-wall interlacing of music and sound effect, for finding the perfect aural complements to the hijo de punta’s emotional and textual tones.
You’re gorgeous for your casting: Leah Steiner as Celestina, with comely weirdness and wonder; Daniel Penilla as Anibal, communicating decency, fear, and desire with understatement; and David Santana during both his turns as an unexpected visitor, pivoting to provoke trepidation, then endearment, then pity as if born to play them all. The trio performs its characters as señor chingador has written them: mouthpieces for poetry who are nonetheless full-fledged mortals. His words are a flow of rhythm and substantive texture, and these actors make of themselves stellar estuaries for the milky music, rarely spilling a drop while remaining recognizable as three corporeal persons living out lives in this rarefied space.
The Long Beach Playhouse has gifted the beauty and the bastard with a simultaneously simple and detailed set design (Naomi Kasahara); with halting and haunting lighting (by Daniel Bergher), where no color or shadow is cast at random; with an aural component (by Jonathan David Lewis) equally grounded in terrestrial Los Angeles and some ethereal plane—all of it meticulously realized by first-rate board operation Jeanne Valleroy).
Small theatres rarely master the mise-èn-scene like this.José Rivera, that beautiful bastard, is currently in preproduction on a film version of Cloud Tectonics. He would be well advised to hop down from Hollywood to see what Trevino and company are doing with his masterwork, which they’ve magnificently conceived and are executing to near perfection. This is probably the best thing the Long Beach Playhouse has ever staged—a compliment that has become increasingly meaningful as Long Beach’s oldest theatre company has gotten better with age by way of youthful infusions of talent and vision.
You might never see a better all-around production. This is a small-stage glimpse at what theatre can do when all of its elements are compressed together, birthing an aesthetic explosion, brilliant and hot and beguiling, bursting forth for a moment before leaving a beauty mark on the universe. Coño.
CLOUD TECTONICS LONG BEACH PLAYHOUSE • 5021 E ANAHEIM ST • LONG BEACH 90804 • 562.494.1014 LBPLAYHOUSE.ORG • FRI-SAT 8PM, SUN 2PM • $14–$24 • THROUGH JULY 7