Mother Road by Octavio Solis currently playing at the San Diego Repertory Theatre until October 31

An Exploration of Various Topics the Playwright Wanted to Unpack from His Perspective and Experience

The Cast of Mother Road at San Diego Repertory Theatre. Photo by Rich Soublet

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti
Playwright Octavio Solis was invited a few years back by The National Steinbeck Center to travel with other creatives just as the Jodes family did in John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Along that trip through Route 66, Solis met and talked to people that inspired him to write a sort of sequel to the novel and title it Mother Road as Steinbeck called the route in his novel.

The piece itself is a total exploration of various topics that Solis wants to unpack from his perspective and experience, like Mexican immigrants and the new American generations, farmers, racism, reverse racism, inherited points of view as well as dated views of what the American family is and/or looks like. 

William Joad (played by Mark Murphey), a senior with terminal cancer, is the grandson of Tom Joad from Steinbeck’s novel, and he is in search of the last surviving descendant of the Joad family to bequeath the family farm in Oklahoma. William is shocked to find this descendant is Mexican- American man Martín Jodes (Richard Jessie Johnson). Solis also includes a few winks in the piece. For example, the last names "Joad" and "Jodes" are the same. Jodes is the Mexicanized version which is also a synonym to "piss off or screw" more or less.

As the men go from California to Oklahoma in this trampled voyage through Route 66 in Martín´s truck, they encounter police brutality against Martín -shocker- and added travelers like Martín´s cousin by choice, Mo (Yadira Correa). By choice because when Mo came out as gay to her family, they shut her out and Martín took her in. Mark Murphey originated the role of Joad and is reprising it in the SD Rep's incarnation. His work is pretty good, delivering a combination of southern flare with western type movies. Richard Jessie Johnson as justice seeker Martín, is mighty and also a bit trampled at times. Old Globe MFA Alumna, Yadira is funny and profound. Another message here with her role as an expert farmer is loyalty to the soil and decent, organic treatment of it. With the implied reference to pesticides used today across the board in American fields, Monsanto, and so on. 

The cast also includes Sandy Campbell, Javier Guerrero, Jason Heil, and Ruben Rubio in various roles. From good cop-bad cop to crop worker, to lawyer and landowners. All do a very good job matching up the different shades of each character. It is a tie for Campbell`s delivery as the town diner waitress Ivy, and sassy lesbian Officer Hamilton. Very enjoyable. Same for veteran Jason Heil, as greedy Roger, racist cop, and old school "Oki". I would've liked to see more like these from Ruben Rubio and Javier Guerrero, but it is a large cast after all.  

Cedric Lamar as the faithful and earth-loving James also brings a lot of flair to the scene. He too originated this role at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Celeste Lanuza as Martín´s great lost love Amelia is mighty, sweet, and has an angelical and educated singing voice that brings melody to the musical or chorus parts during the play. Just as Octavio wants to unpack all these layers into a two-hour piece, a lot goes on stage-wise as well, between an improvised moving truck that the cast pushes around to a diner and hotel with the same dynamic. The musical element is unjustified and honestly has no place there. Seems like it was integrated with a shoehorn almost.

Richard Jessie Johnson and Celeste Lanuza in Mother Road. Photo by Rich Soublet 
Directed by Sam Woodhouse and happy to see Vanessa Duron as Assistant Director, the creative team includes Charles Murdock in Scenic and Production Design. Costume Design by Jennifer Brawn Gittings, Lighting Design Chris Rynne, Music Composition & Sound Design by Paul James Pendergrast, Master Electrician is Ashley McFall, Production Manager Chelsea Smith, Stage Manager Shae Candelaria, Technical Director Sam Moore, Properties Supervisor is Zlatko Mitev, Dramaturgy by Danielle Ward and Rebecca Ojeda, Casting Director Kim Heil.

All in all, it is a well-performed piece, intelligently written, and shows the experience and desire of the playwright to tell the story. No doubt these stories need to keep being produced and told. Yes, immigration legal and illegal, racism, and a failed American system are a reality. However, regardless of the uniqueness of how this play, in particular, came to be, this continues to be part of an exhausted narrative. The Latin American and Hispanic communities are not a monolith. This is not a call-out, it is a kind reminder to all theatre companies that other wonderful stories like Karen Zacarias' Native Gardens, Caridad Svitch (who I met thanks to the Rep btw) In the time of the Butterflies, Fade by Tanya Saracho amongst many many others are out there. And let us not lose sight of Black Mexican by Rachel Lynett presented this year by the San Diego Rep's Latinx New Play Festival. Hopefully, we will see a production of that play very soon.

In the meantime, go and experience Mother Road for yourself and see what you think. The piece is currently running until October 31.

Important information: All patrons, including children, attending San Diego REP performances must either show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 (at least 14 days have passed since the final dose), or proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken in the prior 72-hours. 

Patrons are encouraged to submit this proof of vaccination or test prior to arriving to the performance. This may be done electronically through the BINDLE online system. 

All regardless of vaccination status must wear masks over their nose and mouth at all times while inside the venue.

Additionally, tickets will be emailed prior to each ticketed performance and will be available on your smartphone. 

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