On Wednesday night, Dan and I went to the Mark Taper Forum to see the world premiere of the new musical Los Otros. This production was commissioned by the Center Theatre Group, with the book and lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh and the music by Michael John LaChiusa.
Los Otros is a musical that never should have been a musical. The musical elements did not add to the story telling and detracted from the emotion and tension. The style of singing was staccato and jarring, which made it worse.
Another problem with the story is the structure. It is told in two acts without an intermission. They got it right by not having an intermission, as an intermission would have really killed any momentum that they play may have gained.
The first act is all about a white woman and her various experiences with Mexican culture while living in Southern California. Parts of the story are very cliche and parts are a bit unexpected. Both acts were broken up into several stories occurring at different points in the characters life. The stories did not necessarily connect or build on each other. They seemed arbitrary. My interest in the stories varied greatly. I went from mildly engaged to going through my to-list in my mind. I kept wondering where the story was headed and what one story had to do with the other.
The second act was all about an American man of Mexican decent and his experiences growing up in Southern California. Much like the first act, I wasn't throughly engaged. Although, the man in the second act was a far superior actor and singer to the actress in the first act.
I was thrown a curve ball in the last five minutes of the play. Up until the very end, I thought that the two acts were just showing parallel experiences, but then at the very end the two characters were suddenly tied together in a very bizarre way. I am not going to spoil it for anyone who might be going to see the show, but I will say that it didn't work at all.
Here is how I would have improved the play...
1. Not made it a musical.
2. Some of the stories were actually good, but I would have spread them out among multiple characters, rather than the two. It didn't work that the story had two characters telling 2-3 stories. The main reason that it didn't work is the stories didn't relate or build to create a character sketch or emotional arc. It would have been better to take the strongest stories and make them individual monologues of various characters.
3. Or maybe, just take the male character and turn it into a one person show with stories that build to create a character and give it emotional content.
4. I would never have connected those two character in the end. It didn't work at all and make no sense.
Ellen Fitzhugh had an idea when she wrote this, but it felt like her idea was never fully formed. The parts of the story that were good got lost in the muddle. I can't imagine that this show will go far beyond this run without some major reworking.
One thing that I really love about live theater, is entering the space and seeing the set for the first time.Los Otros had a very visually promising set. A majority of the space was filled with hanging objects (chairs, flowers, crates) that dangled over the audience. It was full and immersive. It made me like the play before it even began. However, set pieces and props have to have purpose. Looking visually cool is not enough of a reason to have a particular set design. I felt like all of these objects were meaningless in the context of the play and this is yet another reason that I left feeling disappointed with the production.