The hallway leading into the theater is decked out with fences, fake bricks, and framed pictures of the show and its actors. The theme continues inside, with spray paint on [fake] brick walls and the projection of images from the 60s and 70s onto the back of the stage.
It’s the setting for “Always Running,” a new production based on the touching memoir by Luis J. Rodríguez, adapted for the stage by the author and by Héctor Rodríguez (no relation), who also directs at CASA 0101 Theater.
Presented by the local theater company along with Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural, the play portrays what people will give trying to prove loyalty, in a graceful raw performance by the entire cast.
Before the start, a recording of trigger warnings for language, drug usage, and gunshots, voiced by Luis J. Rodríguez, cues the beginning of the play. Then, in an untucked button up with a messy tie, Chin, the protagonist played by Rufino Rodriguez, opens the play with a monologue explaining how violence and poverty led to communities needing to defend themselves from everyone, by creating gangs.
Set in Las Lomas, the barrio in the unincorporated South San Gabriel section of the county where the author grew up, the play takes you through a corner of Chicano history that is not talked about as much: La Vida Loca.
With a lit soundtrack including, “Dreaming Casually” by Thee Midniters and “Smile Now, Cry Later” by Sunny Ozuna, we are taken through passionate love, heartbreak, police brutality and hopelessness.
I was afraid the play would romanticize the trauma lived in communities like Chin’s, but it does the opposite, it shows us the ugly realities, the vicious cycle that gang life is, but most importantly, it shows how Chin slowly healed. Something that isn’t shown in Latino men at all.
Upon reflecting after the play, it gave me a better understanding of LA’s conflicts. Now many of the nostalgic stories told by people in my life about “la vida loca” will make sense.
Regardless of your understanding of gang life, I recommend this play to everyone. It humanizes the criminalized and shows perfectly how drugs, violence, poverty, lack of education, and lack of positive figures can dictate one’s mental stability.
“Always Running” will be presented Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 5:00 p.m. at Casa 0101 Theater, 2102 East First Street, through October 20. Discounted previews will be presented Aug. 29 and 30 at 8:00 pm. Special Saturday matinees will be given on Sept. 7, 14 and 21 at 3:00 pm. There will be no performances September 27, 28 and 29.
General Admission tickets are $25 per person, Seniors and Students are $22 per person and Boyle Heights Residents are $20 per person. Group Rates are available for Groups of 10 or more. Advance Reservations are highly recommended. For tickets, call the box office at 323-263-7684, E-mail email@example.com, or buy online at www.casa0101.org.
Photo above: Rufino Romero (left), Sammy Carrera and Ángel Lizárraga in ‘Always Running’ at CASA 0101. Photo by Ed Krieger