by Kiara Torres
“Zoot Suit” by Luis Valdez is the first Chicano play to perform on Broadway and pioneered Latinos in theatre. When I was trying to become more educated on my family’s Chicano history and culture, watching the “Zoot Suit” film adaption in my US history class opened my eyes to how Mexican-Americans have developed in America. After being informed that the play would be performed at the Mark Taper Forum Theater in Los Angeles, I was ecstatic and immediately bought tickets to see the production.
Zoot Suit tells the story of Henry Reyna, played by Matias Ponce, a young Chicano ready to enlist into the Navy and his allegorical character El Pachuco, played by Demian Bichir, who represents Henry’s conscience. Henry celebrates his last day before leaving for war by going to a dance with his fellow 38th Street gang members where they encounter their rival gang, Downey gang. Henry’s little brother Rudy, played by Andres Ortiz, starts a fight which leads Henry and 38th Street to leave the party. After the dance Henry and his girlfriend Della, played by Rocio Lopez, go to the Sleepy Lagoon, a reservoir where young people go to socialize.
However, trouble always seems to find Henry. He ends up getting jumped and his car wrecked by a group of Downey boys. Della and Henry leave the scene to a party, where yet again, Henry finds trouble and would changes the course of the play. At the party, Henry, Della, and their friends get in a fight with the hosts family and that night a boy named Jose Diaz dies.
Henry and his friends Smiley Torres, Joey Castro, and Tommy Roberts get convicted of murdering Jose Diaz and sentenced to a life in prison. The play continues with the pursuit of fighting for the boy’s freedom.
There is no need to be Chicano or Latino in order to enjoy “Zoot Suit”. The music and the Pachuco/Pachuca outfits can be admired by an audience of any race. However, be warned: the Spanish language and slang is used frequently throughout the play and if you lack knowledge of the language, it could be confusing.
“Zoot Suit” is an extraordinary play not only does it entertain you but it keeps you engaged with political and social issues. The parallel between modern day police brutality mirrors the problems and racial issues Americans believed was a thing left in the past. Overall, the play was enjoyable, although its connections to modern times is slightly sad, considering that a play that debuted in 1979 remains true to the relationship between people of color and authority in America.
“Zoot Suit” will continued to be performed at the Mark Taper Forum until April 2, and if you are interested I highly recommend you book tickets as soon as possible.