‘Wild in Wichita’: the transcendence of love over time
Reviewed by Tyler Dean
LATC | 514 S Spring St | Los Angeles, CA 90013
“Act your age.” It’s a phrase all of us have heard at one point or another, usually voiced by a parent or other magisterial figure upon discovering some sort of uncovered mischief. Many times, the phrase is as warranted as it is stiff in meaning, especially in regards to children, young adults, and even the middle-aged authoritarians that youth often finds itself in subjugation to. But when does staunch despotic naysaying apply to the elderly: those who for most of our lives would keep us from swallowing gum or “borrowing” items that don’t belong to us? Watching Denise Blasor’s Wild in Wichita, the answer might surprise you.
Wild in Wichita is the story about two lonely, single senior citizens—Joaquin (Sal Lopez), the Clark Gable/Antonio Banderas bad boy; Carmela (played by Denise Blasor), a vision of sweet, virginal maturity—who fall in love after being dropped off by their children at a retirement home, much to either’s chagrin. What follows is one of the most sincere tales of love and happiness, fantasy and reality, audiences may encounter: from the opening to closing minutes, it’s obvious that these two have nothing in common but a pension for arguing, intermixed with brief bouts of free-wheeling laughter. Nonetheless, it is these moments of lucidity that bring the two together as they battle brittle bones, weak hearts, and the fear of Alzheimer’s, all the while finding the small victories in their late lives as they wait out their “temporary” (or so they both insist) stay at the retirement home.
On the other end of the spectrum are Joaquin and Carmela’s children, Lillian (Crissy Guerrero) and Raul (Alberto De Diego), respectively. Both, successful and happily married to significant others, are the definition of 21st-century youth: uptight, controlling, worried… but about what? Life, it would seem. Raul has five children to care for, not to mention a full-time job, while Lillian and her husband co-mingle as successful attorneys. Young lives filled with more questions than answers (when compared to the aged wisdom of their parents), the contrast between the two generations could not be more stark. We’re dealing with a collective of adults who see themselves as having risen to take on the mantle their parents left them, after their own bodies had begun to give out. So when Lillian and Raul discover that their parents are not only happier and in love, but casting aside their prescribed roles of elderly invalids in favor of skinny dipping and taking long, unsupervised walks, their notion of how a person at their age should behave clashes violently with their own limited freedom and livelihood.
Filing in to the auditorium prior to the start of the play, hazy clouds roll lazily along a blue-sky backdrop, serving to frame both a small stage, set in the center of the room complete with rocking chair and bench, as well as an atmosphere of helpless relaxation. The whole set-up connotes a sense of denouement, one you would undoubtedly experience during a story’s epilogue, and considering the story is about two individuals whose lives we’ve been ingrained to see as “at an end”, you’d be in the right to think so. But the genius of Lina Gallegos’ writing is to upend that very fact as superstition, hence why the story actually begins where we would usually expect it to finish. In essence, there is life yet in these 70-somethings, and they won’t be kept back by society from enjoying the little time they might have left.
Another very interesting point about Wild in Wichita is that Gallegos wrote a good portion (about 35%) in Spanish. I can tell you now that, despite my taking four courses of Spanish throughout middle and high school, I’m pretty bad when it comes to speaking, much less understanding, any language other than English. That being said, the play does an excellent job at undermining the usual language barriers that can plague those of us not privy to multicultural circles of discourse. Although you might find yourself out of the loop on many of the jokes and under-the-breath quips that both Joaquin and Carmela make throughout, you nevertheless feel as if you’re a part of their world, one where language isn’t so much a barrier as a characteristic, and an unimportant one at that.
The reason for this goes back to the title of this piece: the transcendence of love over time. ‘Time’ as it pertains physically to our bodies, and mentally with regards to an era where the elderly are not taken care of in their offspring’s homes but relegated to private living dwellings, forgotten. At one point during the performance, following a twist at the end of the second act, Raul tells Lillian [the following is a rough approximation] that it wasn’t the drugs or the quiet of the nursing home that enabled his mother to get better, but the liveliness and love of Lillian’s father. Love is a universal emotion, one that Wild in Wichita uses to erase the boundaries by which we’ve separated ourselves, whether on cultural grounds, ageist underpinnings, or paradigms of belonging to prescribed enclaves of intelligence or class. Through Gallegos’ writing and Blasor’s direction, it becomes apparent, then, that ‘love’ is ultimately the pinnacle of a life we should all strive for. The rest does not matter.
When the lights finally dim at the conclusion of the play, one cannot help but see Wild in Wichita as a story which pertains to us all, regardless of age, background, or culture. We are all human beings on a fundamental level, with individual character traits, quirks, and preferences, but it’s the common emotions we share that should bring us together. Joaquin and Carmela, from beginning to end, have almost nothing in common aside from one thing: a love for life. It’s this that draws them together. Audience members, strangers at the outset, will find a strange camaraderie among themselves, perhaps even among the façade of nameless faces on Spring St. and 5th as they make their way back to their cars, their homes, and the warm embrace of loved ones or the slightly less cold of their king-sized mattress.
Wild in Wichita forces you to be slightly more aware of life’s intricacies, that the world’s harsh realities aren’t so bad after all. Especially when compared to the irrefutable truth that love and happiness are just a matter of perspective.
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Joaquin is an elderly Mexican gentleman and Carmela is an elderly Puerto Rican lady. They both find themselves in a senior care facility in Wichita, Kansas (of all places!). Joaquin has had heart episodes and Carmela has been arthritic and clinically depressed. Joaquin has been much married and Carmela has lived alone much of her life. Yet, some things cannot be denied, Joaquin is charmed by Carmela and sets about to win her heart. Their adult kids don’t like this one bit.
Love and desire, however, cannot be defeated merely by the passage of years.
Wild in Wichita, a comedy written by playwright Lina Gallegos (“How Dick and Jane Fell in Love”), is the winner of MetLife Nuestras Voces/National Latino Plays Initiative and the Ola Award for Outstanding Achievement in Playwriting. It was produced in Spanish in New York in 2011. The new production at Los Angeles Theatre Center is performed in English.
In this production, Denise Blasor, an associative director at the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts (“Blood Wedding”, “Life is a Dream”), directs. She also plays Carmela. Blasor is one of the busiest voice actors in the television and film industry, and has acted on many stages including Mark Taper Forum and South Coast Repertory.
Sal Lopez (“Habitat”, “La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dios Inantzin”), a core member of the Latino Theater Company, portrays Joaquin. His and Carmela’s offspring are portrayed by Alberto De Diego and Crissy Guerrero.
“Wild in Wichita” is filled with love and laughter. You’re never too old to fall in love. Fall in love with Joaquin and Carmela at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. Showtimes for “Wild in Wichita” are Thurs. and Fri. at 8:00, Sat. at 3:00 and 8:00, Sun. at 3:00. Admission is $30 for regular attendees. Students, seniors, and veterans only cost $20. For LATC Members admission is only $15. For showings on Thursdays, admission is $15 for everyone.
Call (866) 811-4111 to make reservations, or visit www.thelatc.org for online ticketing.
CONSUMER ADVISORY: Performed in English. Estimated running time is 2 hours plus intermission. Suggested for audiences 13 to adult.