Since I started reviewing for the Buzz in 2018, some of the best theater I’ve seen was developed and presented by the Latino Theater Company. Their consistency continues with the world premiere of The Travelers by Luis Alfaro.
The Travelers is description-defying. It’s absurdist but accessible, deep but hilarious. It’s about religion and identity, life and death, California and the universe. How to review such vastness? Seriously, I’m asking. I am not worthy.
Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Travelers opens on a barren landscape. There are three large mounds covered in tall votive candles, a smaller mound and…a bathtub and toilet. A bare leg is visible behind the tub.
Into this world arrive four men. Silently, they don robes and rosaries. These are brothers of the 936-year-old Carthusian Order, in Grangeville, a small town near Fresno. It’s obviously lacking financial support; we learn later that the Diocese is rationing the order’s food. As one brother notes, “God may rule the world, but the church is a business.”
The men come from different backgrounds, revealed over time: Brother Santo (Sean San José, who directs this production based on original direction by Catherine Castellanos) was abandoned as a child. Brother Daniel (Daniel Duque–Estrada) is a former clown from Mexico. Brother Nancho (Kinan Valdez) is a farm worker, Brother Yiyo (Guillermo “Yiyo” Ornelas) comes from the Bay Area. A fifth man, Brother Ogie (Ogie Zulueta), is lifted into the bathtub where he has lived for years and beats his chest three times, as with a Kyrie eleison. A traveler, Brother Juan (Juan Amador), bleeding from a gunshot wound near his heart, crawls in.
Brother Juan is cared for as best as his newfound brothers can. One says he was a doctor in his village, despite having no license and no training. Another downplays the injury: “This is nothing—just ride the local bus.” Another say drily, “We minister to those in need, but not in an urgent care kind of way.” The tone is as revelatory as the words spoken. Brother Juan, despite what appears to be a mortal wound, staggers to his feet and is given a robe.
The ensuing time flies past, within a loose structure of projected religious titles (Resurrection, A Cluster of Rites) and a combination of the reverent (talk of Jesus, Mary and the saints) and the sacrilegious (“Praise God, and all that chingalera”). There are lessons and laughs. All it’s missing is DVR-like function that would allow replay of the wonderful lines and sagacity. (Yes, I’m running out of ways to convey the deep wisdom of The Travelers.)
Luis Alfaro is a Los Angeles theater treasure. The writer/performer grew up in LA’s Pico Union neighborhood, near where he serves as an associate professor at USC. He taps into his family and Los Angeles heritage in many of his works, which have been widely commissioned and performed. His accolades and awards include a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.
The Travelers, produced in association with the Magic Theatre of San Francisco, premiered there earlier this year. It features scenic design by Tanya Orellana, costume and sound design by Christopher Sauceda, and lighting design by Grisel Torres.
The Travelers plays on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 4:00 p.m. through Oct. 15 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St. Parking is available for $8 with box office validation at Joe’s Parking structure, 530 S. Spring St. Tickets are $22-48 and are available here.