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Common Thread Theatre Collective Challenges our Cultural Intuition to Know “how to make an American Son”

by | Jul 20, 2023

A cast of six superb Charlotte actors delivers a profound drama at the Barber Theatre stage of Davidson College about the gripping status and mindset of Latinos struggling to build a better life in the proverbial ‘land of opportunity.’

Common Thread Theatre Collective’s objective, “to bring a different brand of summer theatre” is manifested in its final production of this season, the east coast premiere of Christopher Oscar Peña’s, how to make an American Son.

(Chris Record photo)

Peña’s compelling script is brilliant. Common Thread’s well-executed production is spot-on. And each of the six outstanding actors delivers a magnificent, realistic portrayal of the individual character each one plays.

Common Thread’s production team deserves a huge round of applause starting with the talented San Antonio-based director, Holly Nañes, for knowing how to hone her actors into portraying the distinct challenging, strong personality of each character. Their delivery is cohesive.

Harlan D. Penn’s scenic design is perfect. The play opens showing the clean office setting of an American cleaning business, featuring a rotating wall panel with the flag of Honduras denoting the ethnic origin of its owner. As the story develops over the ensuing ninety minutes, the same panel rotates to change the setting for the performance of alternate scenes.

Rigo Nova plays Mando, a hard-working Honduran immigrant who owns the successful cleaning business he has developed over the years, wanting to give his family a better life in the USA.

Nicolás Zuluaga plays Mando’s son, Orlando, a spoiled, overbearing teenager who feels he’s an investment for his father. “Being gay is expensive,” he retorts to his father’s attempts to discipline his son’s exorbitant spending.

(Chris Record photo)

The character development and contrasts throughout the socio-drama that playwright Peña creates between father and son, are spectacular—gripping, wrenching, realistic, aggravating, inevitable, pitiful, irreverent, clever, surprising, loving, and tearful. Mando wants to give his American Son the American Dream. Orlando, in some ways more learned than his father, is simply sex-driven and self-indulgent.

Nova’s excellent delivery of Mando’s character is loud and clear but monotone. Zuluaga’s outstanding portrayal of Orlando shows how rotten, conniving, lazy, the carefree, lovable, selfish gay kid can be. Bravo! Nicolás Zuluaga is an actor who is going places!

(Chris Record photo)

Stacy Fernandez portrays Mercedes, the only woman in the show, Mando’s efficient assistant who is dedicated to her job. She is careful not to commit any infraction that could be noticed by feared Immigration officials. She helps her nephew Rafael, played by Richard Calderón, enter the country. Both Hondurans play it safe by attempting to maintain a clean lifestyle.

Initially, Fernandez’s lines are too soft but strengthen as the story develops. She delivers an empathetic portrayal of the cautious Mercedes, who can also be tough when the going gets rough.

Calderón is a sleeper. As Rafael, having crossed the border to pursue the stock-line, ‘better life,’ while cleaning the office and mopping floors, he refuses to be tempted by Orlando’s homosexual approaches and antics. Their discourses are priceless—eventually surprising.

The third youth is Sean, an arrogant, spoiled brat portrayed by Logan Pavia. He’s the son of the building owner Dick, played by Rob Addison, a haughty personification of the proverbial ugly-American.

The portrayal of every character is superb. What a cast! Christopher Oscar Peña’s how to make an American Son script is unique. The language, some of the adult situations, and sexual encounters in the play are strong. Above all, the theme deals with a subject sadly neglected all too often, but one that has existed on our side of the border for decades. It’s the burning story of today.

Bravo, Common Thread Theatre Collective for bringing how to make an American Son to a stage at our comfortable home at Lake Norman. More! We’d like to see more realistic stories about life, not only from other parts of the world, but how it is occurring so close to home at our Southern border. We need to understand life from the Latino point of view. After all, every American is, or descended from, another land and culture.

It’s sad to realize that an often-rejected, youthful American Son like Orlando, who is seeking to find his place in life, finds himself wondering, “Do they make the rules so we could lose?”

how to make an American Son may be seen at the Barber Theatre each night through Sunday afternoon, July 23.

Connie Fisher

Connie Fisher, neé Consuelo Carmona, is a Davidson resident who grew up in Mexico City where she became a journalist and acquired a taste for the theatre. Her preference for work behind the scenes, led to an interest in writing reviews—Yale Rep among her favorite troupes. Connie is the author of Doing it the Right Way, the biography of an Italian hatmaker. Her prose appears with 87 other international writers in The Widows’ Handbook. An active, founding member of Lake Norman Writers, currently she is writing chapters of memoir and continues to review theatre in the Lake Norman area.

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