.‘Cesar Died Today’ moves to Cloverdale

Mounting a production of a little-known play in these pandemic and inflationary-influenced times is something of a risk for most theater companies. Audiences have yet to return in full-force to live theater, so a significant leap of faith is required to produce material that has little to no track record.

Healdsburg’s Raven Players and the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center have joined together to take that leap with a co-production of Gabriel and John Fraire’s Cesar Died Today. The show recently ran for four performances at the Raven Performing Arts Theater and now moves on to the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center for performances on Jan. 28 and 29.

The play isn’t completely unfamiliar to local audiences, as it had a staged reading one year ago as part of the Raven’s ScripTease program. Originally produced in 1996 by the New Latino Visions Company at New York’s Brooklyn College, Oz Montelongo Medina directs the Raven/CPAC West Coast premiere.

Labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez has passed away on the day Mother Guerrero (Rosa Reynoza) has asked her family to gather for a special announcement. Daughter Gracie (Sky Hernandez-Simard) was once a part of the Chavez movement, but marriage and a career in nursing now occupy her time. Son Robert (Ignacio Ayala Aguilar) sees assimilation as the way to success at a financial services firm, but that success is being threatened. Youngest son Cesar (Evan Espinoza) finds his indecisiveness in everything (including on how to pronounce his name) has put his college scholarships in jeopardy.

Mother’s announcement that they are to be featured as “Hispanic Family of the Year” in a national magazine sets off a series of family arguments and debates (including whether they’re Hispanic at all), and none of them wish to participate with the article. What’s a mother to do? She must rely on her faith and an impish spirit (Paloma Victoria Rodriguez Irizarry) to set things straight.

Playwrights Gabriel and John Fraire try to cover a lot of material in their 80-minute family dramedy. The script affirms its college origins, with a heavy reliance on expositional material that comes off as more of a lecture than a theatrical piece. But there’s also some good-natured humor and laugh-out-loud moments. The play’s best moments are when the family is allowed to be a family, with Reynosa’s Mother the warm center of a lovingly bickering unit.

It’s also nice to see more progress in increasing the diversity of voices on local stages.

‘Cesar Died Today’ runs through Jan. 29 at the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, 209 N. Cloverdale Blvd. Saturday, 7:30pm; Sunday, 2pm. $25. 707.894.2219. Masking is strongly encouraged. cloverdaleperformingarts.com.

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