El Borracho Captures Accurately the Mexican Dynamic of a Broken Family Due to Addiction

Currently Playing at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego Until March 20th

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

from left) Matthew Martínez  and Jesse J. Perez in El Borracho, 2022. Photo by Jim Cox.
Developed as part of the Globe’s 2020 Powers New Voices Festival, El Borracho by Tony Meneses caught my eye the moment it was announced especially because of the title: The Drunk or Drunkard in English, with the lotería card as the illustration, my curiosity grew. What was this about? and how was it going to play out?

When David (Matthew Martínez) was a kid and played lotería with his brother and sister, they would cackle each time the el borracho card came out because it reminded them of their father. They would sing in laughter "Papá, papá". Fast forward to the present where David is in college and developing his first play, his sister is married with twins, his brother is gone and no one knows his whereabouts, and his parents have been divorced for five years. Alma (Zilah Mendoza) had enough of Raúl's (Jesse J. Perez) partying ways with the drinking, gambling, women, and trips to jail. Now, in her small apartment, she works as a lunch lady at a school and is part of a church group leading a much calmer lifestyle. Raúl lost his job as a pizza delivery man and cannot live by himself anymore because he is terminally ill from all that messy partying. David pleads with his mom and wheels the dad back in because, in this vortex called life, there are always surprises/unexpected things, or what Mexican grandmothers would call "tu cruz" (your cross to bear or carry). Alma is hesitant, she just wanted to move on but agrees to the ex staying with her and taking care of him, rearranging her life to accommodate  Raúl when he never took care of himself in the first place! (this can apply to practically any man though, regardless of culture).

Jesse J. Perez as the careless and laissez-faire dad is intense with a deep portrayal where he also has perfect notion and grip of his body during the drunk scenes where he tumbles and falls, or falls and jumps back up showing Regina Fernandez's good work as the movement consultant for this play. Zilah Mendoza as Alma has a nice, melodic rhythm and great stage rapport with Jesse. Young Matthew Martínez is also pretty good, with good timing and serves as balance both between the parents in the story and the two actors who play them.
Zilah Mendoza as Alma, Matthew Martínez as David, and Jesse J. Perez as Raul in El Borracho, 2022. Photo by Jim Cox.

Director Edie Torres's style with his signature freeze-frame scenes definitely added flavor to the piece. Playwright Tony Meneses captures accurately the Mexican dynamic of a broken family versus the dynamic of a broken Mexican family. He also includes hidden (and not-so-hidden) details that are spot on like Raúl's Tecate beer preference, two pet birds Alma has, a boy and a girl named El Gordo y la Flaca, a funny scene between the exes where they are both drunk and eating gansitos out on the little back patio and Raúl exclaims "ay, se me cayó". 

Like a lot of Mexicans, I played lotería growing up. I even have the millennial lotería that I play as an adult now but, that is another story...The fact that the play includes a PC conversation about the cards where they analyze why La Sirena is not wearing a top, has her chichis exposed and of course, the card with El Negrito as Alma points out how wrong and inappropriate that card is...also spot on. I enjoyed all of these but the gansito part was definitely my favorite because Jesse is deep in the part and in the now, giving the audience a good comedic and histrionic moment. 

A couple of references regarding white people are included as well but there is one in particular where Alma asks David why he and his siblings didn't get their dad a professional nurse like white people do? A question with heavy cultural weight. 

I am a David Israel Reynoso fan and appreciated the costume design, especially Raúl's bedazzled norteño outfit. I did not appreciate the element of used beer cans and alcohol bottles around the stage as part of the set design. Ahora si que me quedó a deber. I was really left wanting more out of that. The lighting design by Mextly Couzin with a church-like neon frame along with a neon framed Christ accentuated the apartment and Alma's religious faith in a subtle and creative way.

There is also a powerful scene between Mendoza and Martínez where she confesses that she has to hold her tongue regarding her feelings towards their dad because of them, but what about her? David retaliates asking his mom why she did not take Raúl to his play opening when it was so important and he probably will not get another chance to see his work due to his illness? an illness that is never disclosed in the play which, I did not mind but assumed was AIDS. I believe the play was going and flowing up until David tells Alma that he does not know how to tell Raúl that he is gay. That kind of came out of nowhere. Then I realized the moment itself reflects it is Tony Menesses's story more or less and that he is working through it with the play. 

Zilah Mendoza , Jesse J. Perez , and Matthew Martínez  in El Borracho, 2022. Photo by Jim Cox.

In the semiotic sense of a family that is dysfunctional and broken due to addiction, what it is to forgive, and the meaning of family on top of all the colorful cultural references, El Borracho has potential but needs more work. I have an issue with these contexts that -although true-, kind of continuously include older people working in the service or cleaning industry, not speaking English, struggling to get by, and only the first generations going to school because they were born in the US., I believe these topics have become a crutch in the narrative and more diverse stories with Mexican and Mexican-American characters should be produced as this is only one of the many, may stories within the culture. Going with a very pop-ie, superficial, yet good example, there is a scene in the 90s series Beverly Hills 90210 (yes, I am dating myself) where Brandon tells his girlfriend that is "unconsciously" racist "Not all Black people have rhythm, not all Latin people are hot-tempered, and not all Jewish people are great with money".  

In a time where BIPOC stories are scaling from readings only to being included as a full production in seasons, let us continue producing more that include both sides of the coin or well, all the diverse layers. And this goes for diversity in every culture as crutches are used all across the board.

El Borracho is currently playing until March 20 at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. For information regarding ticket prices and performances, please click here.

Check out a lovely conversation I had with actor Jesse J. Perez, actor, Craig Noel Distinguished Professor and Program Director of The Old Globe and University of San Diego Shiley Graduate Theatre Program here.

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