W. Fran Astorga’s Comic Vision Inspires with Grace & Eco-Poetry
by Barry David Horwitz
I have never seen a play like “Exhaustion Arroyo: Dancin’ Trees in the Ravine.” “Arroyo” is a totally original show that offers bi-lingual dialogue in English and Spanish—with no loss of understanding. Playwright W. Fran Astorga takes us along with his Pizza parlor workers to a wonderland in the Santa Cruz forests.
Astorga has concocted a heady cocktail of TV comedy, street lingo, and environmental revelations that could kick off new kinds of theater. The perfectly balanced cast makes us feel at home; while a profound critique of the way we live now unfolds delightfully.
When we meet Taki (Edna Mira Raia) and Chio (Pano Roditis), they are working hard at Dante’s Pizza chain during the pandemic—at a hellish corporate job. Raia’s engaging delivery and openness to whatever comes along is charming and enticing. Roditis’ earthy lingo puts us right into that pizza hell, wondering how they manage to survive the B.S., while being underpaid and exploited.
They are visited in short order by a bumbling burglar (Patricio Becerril) who later becomes their friend Apé. Becerril is charming and open He makes us laugh out loud at his feeble attempts to rob the store. Here’s a burglar with whom you can find empathy, for sure.
Hilarious Natalia Delgado plays a corporate inspector and a complaining white lady, La Karen, who demands her phoned in pizza order right now. She goes to pieces and demands her rights from the Dante’s Pizza overlords. Delgado goes all the way playing an entitled customer’s self-righteousness, beautifully. In all her height and rage, that we howl at her fabulous antics as La Karen!
Delgado makes believers of us, again, when she turns up as La Roca, a talking boulder who speaks to the trio of friends on their hike. Later she plays The Shroom, too. At a hidden lake in the Santa Cruz redwoods, the friends take some shrooms and the rock speaks to them boldly. Their mushroom trip carries us deep into the natural world, far from Dante’s Hell. They need that trippy day off.
Each scene delights, as we flash back and forth between pizza parlor and redwood arroyo. Cutting Ball’s experimental work is highlighted by wonderful rings or ripples painted onto the floor, echoing tree rings or waves from an underground lake. From every angle—the set, the actors, and the script—the play echoes with new ways of seeing the world we live in.
It’s a rich comedy but more than that—it’s a way to escape to Nature while reflecting on the mess we’ve got ourselves into. I strongly recommend a trip to Cutting Ball Theater—a trip that allows us reflect on the wonders of Nature and our role in Nature.
Don’t miss “Exhaustion Arroyo.” It’s the right time for “Dancin’ Trees in the Ravine,” a comedy with purpose and pleasure, right here in downtown San Francisco. Take that trip with W. Fran Astorga and his crew because their experimental play is unique and memorable.
“Exhaustion Arroyo: Dancin’ Trees in the Ravine” by W. Fran Astorga, original music by Jesse Sanchez, directed by R. Réal Vargas Alanis & W. Fran Astorga, a co-production with In The Margin, costumes by Sonia Yvette, scenic design by Ashley Mendez, by Cutting Ball Theater, San Francisco. Info: CuttingBall.com – to May 21, 2023.
Cast: Patricio Becerril, Natalia Delgado, Edna Mira Raia, and Pano Roditis.
Banner photo: Patricio Becerril (The Burglar) & Edna Mira Raia (Taki). Photos by Ben Krantz