Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes) at the La Jolla Playhouse

The Good, the Real, and The Bad About an Exhausted Narrative Regarding Illegal Immigration to the United States 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Danny Ray Caraballo, Jen Anaya, Carlo Alban in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of En Garde Arts’ FANDANGO FOR BUTTERFLIES (AND COYOTES);
photo by Rich Soublet II.
I try to stay away from using the "Mexican woman" card and just write perspectives regarding the experience and the feel. With plays that have to do with Latinamerican topics, I aim to be 100% objective. Please consider this a disclaimer. Here goes:

La Jolla Playhouse opened En Garde Arts’ production of Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes), by Chilean/Costa Rican-American playwright Andrea Thome with original music by Mexican musicologist, producer, composer, and artistic director Sinuhé Padilla. The piece directed by José Zayas  was inspired by interviews with immigrants from Latin America in New York. For the Playhouse, the setting changed to a church on Chula Vista's third avenue where locals will gather for a fandango which sort of translates to a dance party with live music and singing. There are ICE raids happening that night and churches are really taken as sanctuaries where they cannot come in and people can stay safe. The play definitely reflects highlights from the interviews with facts like what a coyote is, which is basically a person that smuggles people across the borders through water or land depending on the area, into the United States for a hefty fee. Within the smuggles there is usually violence, separation, and even death. It also reflects the struggle of being somewhere illegally along with constant fear, the lack of freedom, the longing for it, and how the American dream propaganda does not hold up to the expectations. 

Mariposa (Jen Anaya) immigrated from Mexico and works in a deli. She is also the troop leader of the fandango happenings. Rogelio (Carlo Albán) and Elvin (Danny Ray Caraballo) came from Honduras and work with horses on a ranch in Bonita and they are waiting for their cousin Johan (Roberto Tolentino) who is coming to the US from Honduras via a coyote. Johan is gay and had to escape Honduras to save his life. Pili (Frances Ines Rodriguez) is a fandango regular and savvy musician. Rafaela just came into the church courtyard looking for her friend Verónica and while waiting, she gets to know the regulars and shares part of her story as a Dominican coming to the US, being raised by her Christian grandmother and tasked to become a cop. Pili and Rafaela are legal while the rest aren't. Elvin has an ankle monitor and is awaiting deportation. Rogelio left his wife and daughter in Honduras 10 years ago and does not know if he will see them again. He has the hots for Mariposa and he is not shy about it. Something that is sadly very common in real life. The ICE raid happens nearby and the troop who found its community and family has to face the consequences. 

Danny Ray Caraballo in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of En Garde Arts’

The cast gave me a vibe of musicians and singers acting. The music ensemble, rhythm, and coordination are definitely on point. Lead Musician Sinuhé Padilla guides the musical flow along with violinist and dancer Tania Mesa. There is a wooden platform in the middle of the stage where they hop on and do a bit of zapateado and singing. Each character shares their journey of how they came to the States and within that, there are graceful contemporary dance sequences and lighting. Jen Anaya is mighty as mariposa with a strong purpose and a great voice. Carlo Albán is also pretty good as Rogelio. Sinuhé Padilla and Tania Mesa grace the stage with their bright personalities. Frances Ines Rodriguez is rocking a Don Ramón t-shirt which I assume is Costume Designer Fabian Fidel Aguilar's doing? a nice tacit hommage to the Mexican comedian Ramón Valdés who aside from a hefty film career, was part of the Latinamerican sensation Chespirito. Like I always point out in the blogviews, details like that do really make a difference in the experience. The play is mostly in English and the songs are performed in Spanish. There are screens on each side of the theatre with subtitles in Spanish which I think is wonderful and a door that should be kept open with all productions, not just the ones that have other languages in the plot. The introduction to the show was also bilingual. Again, this is something that should be done for every show. Just saying.

The cast in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of En Garde Arts’ FANDANGO FOR BUTTERFLIES
(AND COYOTES); photo by Rich Soublet II.
Johnny Moreno's Scenic & Projection Design of the church courtyard is with papel picado, worn-out walls, and floors. Why is that? and where did the inspiration come from? As mentioned in the beginning, there are many real-life facts shown in 'Fandango, I also consider there is a caricaturesque way too of capturing the personality of the characters. A stereotype we can say, of facing trying times through music and song and how that sector of the population is usually longing and sad. Continuing with the experience factor, I honestly also ask why these stories most of the time have to do with the illegal immigration of Latinamerican citizens to the US. Not taking away from the reality and thousands of people crossing illegally every day, why do we have to see one side of the coin only? Not all people that came to the US from Latinamerica did so illegally or escaping danger. There are people that came here due to talent, work, school, life, and so on where are those stories? playwright Andrea Thome is Chilean/Costa Rican-American where is her story? Many ICE officers are Mexican/American, Philipino American, Puertorrican as well as border patrol agents, where are their stories? Do you see where I am getting at? In a time when finally BIPOC stories are taking the main stages and not only are shown in a tiny black box somewhere, where they are scaling from readings to a fully produced show, let us reflect the richness of the cultures and move along being a part of the solution.

Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes) is currently playing at the La Jolla Playhouse in the Mandell Weiss Forum until September 25. After each performance, audience members can join in a fandango with the cast members. For performance dates, times, and ticket prices, click here

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