Social commentaries on the Vietnam War and race relations in 1960s Los Angeles have been no stranger to the stage, but so few have finely intertwined with an era with thumping live music and themes of biculturalism and teen angst as the Bootleg Theatre, just outside downtown Los Angeles, introduces the world to Evangeline, the Queen of Make-Believe. Presenting the music of The Neighborhood band, featuring the powerful vocals of Cava, and starring an exceptionally talented cast of Catherine Lidstone, Daniel Chacon, Jorge Diaz, Danielle Barbosa, Karen Anzoategui, and Georgia Reed, Evangeline will literally and figuratively rock its audiences during a limited engagement run.
Set in the thick of the Vietnam War, when young men were being sent to a faraway land to fight a battle they had no choice but to participate in, Evangeline shines a spotlight on a Latino family residing in East Los Angeles. We meet Evangeline Ibarra (Lidstone), the production's titular lead character, a young woman taking care of her mother, Alicia(Barbosa), and brother Ramon (Diaz) after the passing of her father. Evangeline wants to see a world beyond East L.A., but her cultural family values clash with her desires for an American lifestyle.
Convinced by her mother that she must stay home and do all the chores while her brother completes high school and the matriarch tries to bring home the bacon, Evangeline wonders what could have been had her father not succumbed to a heart attack. Her thoughts and desires are exclaimed by Cava’s groovy singing performances. With the help of her cousin Rita (Anzoategui), Evangeline begins to live out her world of make believe, quickly witnessing first-hand the world of counterculture when she becomes a go-go dancer on the Sunset Strip. Before she knows it, she is strolling down La Cienega in the wee hours of the night, attending art walks one day and invite-only parties in the hills the next.
A multimedia production using video projects to complement the storytelling, Evangeline navigates through the life of a young woman struggling with identity as she attempts to resolve influences from two competing sources. One the one hand, Evangeline wants to be the perfect daughter and sister. On the other, she does not want to be jailed by the circumstance that is East L.A. Does she please her traditional mother or appease her outer world curiosities?
As she searches for answers, she finds a boyfriend, James(Chacon), discovers a passion for dancing, learns how a distant war can have nightmarish impacts in her own backyard, and finds herself in the middle of a series of Chicano student walkouts. Through it all, Evangeline shows that the difficulty of assimilating into American society without sacrificing one’s cultural and ethnic roots is one that is not limited to Latinos, but is instead a common struggle that crosses color lines.
Lidstone is adorably impressive as Evangeline, demonstrating charisma and charm from her first appearance on stage until the curtain call. Anzoategui was quite memorable as the spunky Rita, while Mr. Diaz is likable as the baby brother; Barbosa is convincing as the conservative mother who struggles with her daughter’s independence.
Beyond the solid cast, equally as impressive was Cava, who belted some of Los Lobos’ greatest tunes such as “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Good Morning Aztlán,” “Revolution,” and “River of Fools,” among others.
Collectively, Evangeline, the Queen of Make-Believe is a refreshing stage production delicately interweaving cultural sensitivities with America’s strongest counterculture days. Playing at the Bootleg Theatre (2220 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles) now through May 27, Evangeline, the Queen of Make-Believe is worthy of finding its way onto your calendar.
Photos by Theresa Chavez.