Review: Rancho Pancho
By Marissa Greenberg / For the Journal on Wed, Aug 3, 2011
“Rancho Pancho,” currently at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, incites discussion of race, class and sexuality, deliberately ignoring the injunction against discussing these hot-button topics. Originally developed in 2004 by Gregg Barrios, “Rancho Pancho” portrays the two-year relationship of Pancho Rodriguez, a Latino from a Texas border town, and the Southern playwright Tennessee Williams. The principal action is set in Cape Cod during the summers of 1946 and 1947 as Williams was writing “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Barrios’ frenetic script bears some resemblance to Williams’ masterpiece, capturing a volatility and violence in Pancho and Tennessee’s relationship not unlike that of Stanley and Blanche’s.
The NHCC production features two members of the original 2008 production: Diane Malone (director) and Benny Briseño (Pancho). Malone and all the actors use a simple stage design to considerable effect. Malone keeps the emphasis on Williams’ typewriter, the well-stocked bar and the sofa, and Briseño demonstrates effectively that Pancho is comfortable with action on the sofa but turns to the bar to deal with Williams’ activities at the typewriter.
Indeed, the stage communicates invisible borders of space and roles, subtly policed by Williams and his peers. Pancho’s servant-like status, for example, is conveyed beautifully when Briseño cleans the stage while narrating the couple’s divisive experience in Hollywood.
Santiago Candelaria plays Williams the “queen,” both fabulous homosexual and celebrated playwright, to a tee. By comparison, his other affects fall somewhat flat, as especially evident during scenes with writer Carson McCullers (Teena Pugliese) and director Margo Jones (Vivian Nesbitt).
For instance, when McCullers wraps Pancho’s bleeding hand, her sympathy is meant to highlight Williams’ initial indifference. McCullers performs this moment with an electric sincerity that characterizes her entire performance, yet Candelaria’s coldness seems forced. Similarly, despite the honesty of Nesbitt’s performance, it is hard to believe Jones’ accusation in the final scene that Williams is a two-faced friend, for Candelaria’s performance suggests unconscious sabotage rather than calculated manipulation.
Presented in partnership with Camino Real Productions and part of the Albuquerque Theatre Guild’s Tennessee Williams Festival 2011, “Rancho Pancho” is a thinking playgoer’s play that may inspire you to put the Albuquerque Theatre Guild’s Williams Festival on your calendar for fall, especially the production of “Streetcar” at NHCC, which should echo with new significance.
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