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Theatre Review (LA): Los Otros by Fitzhugh and LaChuisa at the Mark Taper Forum

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Los Otros is a new work by Ellen Fitzhugh. Ms. Fitzhugh has written for such diverse composers as Adam Guettel, Marc Blitzstein, Mary Rodgers, William Finn, Henry Mancini, and many, many more. Herringbone is a work of hers that I am most familiar with, and I have never really gotten over its mystery. So it is with her latest piece Los Otros that she wrote in conjunction with Michael John LaChuisa, who is a very individualistic composer himself. His songs are difficult to sing, often not melodic, a varying tempi, and for the most part, pretty negative. Ms. Fitzhugh, on the other hand, writes in language that is down to earth yet has a poetic quality.

Los Otros is basically two stories. The first involves a series of monologues that set out to tell the story of California’s cultural identity through music. Two outsiders (or Otros) are each given an act to tell their individual story.

The Woman (Tony-winner Michele Pawk) is a middle-aged woman who goes about in a negligee and tells of her down and out upbringing in San Diego. She and her two sisters meet this Mexican family who are hiding out, and this discovery gives purpose to her life, that is, until they are taken away. When, in later life she encounters a nanny (sort of) from Tijuana who comes into her life when she is living in Burbank, a single mother of two. At one point The Woman volunteers to help a young Mexican teenager lose his virginity, at much peril. She once again has found purpose in her life revolving around Mexicans.

The Man (Julio Monge) is introduced to us as a 75-year-old accountant taking a shower. He recalls his upbringing in Carlsbad. As he proceeds to tell us his life story, we soon learn that he is gay and had two significant relationships with men. The first is with Paco, whom he meets picking plums, and the other is a troubled relationship with “a white man who once was the escort of Ava Gardener.”

Both these stories are difficult to follow at times as told through the lens of an older woman who is a lush and an older gay man, trying to deal with being American and gay, yet feeling left out because he is a Mexican homosexual. I found her story extremely difficult to follow. She seemed to sing all LaChuisa’s off key.

Unfortunately, when I hear two sounds at the same time that aren’t in focus, I get lost, whether it is two separate conversations or an off-key singer telling a story to unmelodic tunes. Still the piece haunts me, perhaps because the actors were really excellent in their roles or the fact that California is now almost 50% Latin and I know so little about their lives. Los Otros is playing at the Mark Taper Forum until July 1.

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