The World Premiere of "MUGRE" at Chula Vista's Onstage Playhouse:

A Slippery Tale of Struggle and Resilience in a South San Diego Car Wash

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti 

Vanessa Lopez, John Carroll, and Paul Araujo. Photo Anibal Alcaraz
Onstage Playhouse continues Raise4Plays Giving campaign where tickets are donation-based and audiences can secure their seats by paying the amount they wish starting at $10 dollars in consideration of the ticketing fees. 

Written by Salomon Maya, and directed by OSP Artistic Director James P. Darvas, "MUGRE" presents a story that strikes a chord with Mexican audiences, especially those living on a Mexico-U.S border. Pancho (Paul Araujo), Pato (Marcel Ferrin), and Jerónimo who prefers being called "Jerry" (John Carroll) work at Los Mojados carwash in South San Diego where we see the hard and physically consuming work that washing and drying cars brings, and how it gets complicated as the weather changes. Pancho is the dad figure of the group as he is the oldest and with more experience, Jerry just got his associate's degree from Southwestern College and has the vision and wish for a better life. Pato is the youngest, at twenty years old with a demanding girlfriend and trying to figure out life as the son of a single mom. The play goes into the struggles faced, shedding light on the historical and cultural U.S-Mexico context as well as the ongoing challenges that have shaped their lives. In parallel to the carwash, there's Esperanza (Vanessa Lopez) and her little sister Isabella (Adriana Cuba) living in Mexico City. Isabella comes to California for the first time, arriving in San Diego, and finds a job at Los Mojados. A common denominator between this parallel brings a story twist that will leave audiences thinking.

Marcel Ferrin. Photo Anibal Alcaraz

The set and scenic design by Patrick Mason and Duane McGregor take the audience to the gritty world of a car wash with great authenticity using Estefania Ricalde's projection design on two large vertical screens, one on each side of the stage, that pop different vehicle models simulating a drying queue. The "supplies and break room areas" are in the middle where the washers get their towels, cleaning liquids, and leave their personal belongings. Kevin "Blax" Burroughs has no bad days in lighting design and this time for MUGRE, he again understood the assignment and complimented each scene punctually. Brad Dubois added details to the jeans and t-shirt costume design for the car washers, accented each character's personality like a Xolos jersey which also gave a nod to Tijuana's football (or how they call it over here, soccer) team or, the decision of adding flowers to Esperanza's hair that illustrate a sensitive metaphor.

James P. Darvas's direction shines through as the actors deliver strong portrayals that capture the essence of their roles. Vanessa Lopez is chillingly powerful as Eperanza. Marcel Ferrin is spot on as the "desmadroso" Pato who has a big heart but lacks direction because of his upbringing. I recently saw Paul Araujo and Adriana Cuba in a Camino 23 workshop of the play Stoneheart by Georgina Escobar, directed by Daniel Jáquez. Happy to see Paul on stage again after a while. His portrayal of Pancho is deep with various layers that he peels off well and promptly, as much as the script can allow. Adriana is starting to shine on the San Diego stages through her great work. It is good to see new faces and if these are diverse, even better. It is the first time I have seen John Carroll and he should not be a "highly reclusive actor" as his bio says and share more of this histrionic talent with audiences. Each actor gave a solid performance which made a strong cast.

Salomon Maya's intention behind the play is clear, and it succeeds in creating an experience that allows Mexican viewers to relate while providing a valuable opportunity for non-Mexican viewers to gain insight and understanding. While the play's premise and message are commendable, it is important to acknowledge that, like many new plays, MUGRE still requires some refinement. The writing would benefit from a more seamless weaving between the events that unfold within the story. Strengthening the narrative's congruence would enable the emotional impact to land more powerfully. However, it is worth noting that the underlying intention and the facts portrayed are evident and carry the weight of the story. On a -very- personal note, naming the carwash "Los Mojados" although I understand how it is playing with a double innuendo, I also feel it adds to the illegal immigrant stereotype and at this point, with the over-told narratives in American Theatre about Latin Americans immigrating illegally, I believe details like this should be guarded with better care. 

Vanessa Lopez and John Carroll. Photo Anibal Alcaraz

The word in Spanish "mugre", means "dirt", "filth", or "muck" and just like the innuendos with the name of the carwash, the play goes beyond the literal meaning of its title offering a thought-provoking glimpse into the struggles and resilience of hardworking people regardless of zip code or language. The practical and visually creative production elements, including the skillful set design and lighting, contribute to an interesting experience. Although the writing could be further refined to enhance the cohesion of the story, the intention and the facts presented in the play are powerful. Salomon Maya's work brings an opportunity for audiences to engage with the challenges faced by those living the border and with that, hopefully, foster empathy and understanding.

Speaking of empathy and understanding, support your local theatre today. MUGRE is currently playing until September 24th. For performance times and dates please click here

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