Reviews, Quotes and Articles
from CASA 0101
Beverly Hills Courier
King of the Desert, actor René Rivera’s one-man show about his journey from San Antonio barrio to Broadway is one of self discovery. THE JOY OF IT IS WATCHING RIVERA ASSUME ALL THE ROLES IN HIS STORY—especially his dysfunctional family including his resigned-to-his-fate father, long-suffering mother and drug-addict criminal brother. RIVERA IS TOUCHING as a slow-witted childhood friend and himself as a young boy, loving his first ever role as an avocado in a school pageant and vowing to make acting his career. The story takes Rivera to Juilliard, where he won a full scholarship, and facing the reality of working as a hispanic actor—often stereotypically cast as a junkie, gang member or criminal. THE PLAY'S SNIPPETS...COME NATURALLY AND REVEAL AN ACTOR OF SKILL AND YEARNING. After a life in New York ... where “I never let anyone in,” Rivera is ultimately redeemed by love and the birth of his children. And able to say, “I know who I am.” RIVERA IS EXHAUSTING, THRILLING AND A MARVEL TO WATCH as he bounds around Danuta Tomzynski’s two-level set, playing everything from police offers, fellow actors, teachers and more. Sound design by David Marling and projections by Blair Thompson—everything from fireworks, a freeway overpass, lights on the Great White Way and a star-filled sky—CONTRIBUTE GREATLY TO THE EVENING'S EFFECTIVENESS.
"The one-man-show performed by René Rivera in “The King of the Desert,” is INTENSE, HUMOROUS AND PASSIONATE... Rivera portrays every character, performing the true story of his life as a striving actor growing up in a Mexican-American home in San Antonio, Texas and eventually studying at the Julliard School in New York.
In the play, which was written by Rivera’s wife, Stacey Martino, HE CREATES A VIVID PICTURE of his family and the people around him... HE FLOWS IN AND OUT OF ROLES EFFORTLESSLY and RIVERA'S ELECTRIFYING ENERGY PULLS THE AUDIENCE INTO HIS COMPLICATED LIFE as a young boy struggling to find his identity. The journey of his life takes off transitioning so perfectly from English and Spanish as he learns to solve his life dilemmas when transforming into characters like a Mexican Revolutionary poet, to a Mayan shaman and a werewolf. THE STORY IS TOLD IN A UNIQUE WAY...RIVERA DOES AN AMAZING JOB KEEPING THE AUDIENCE ENGAGED by revealing intimate parts of his life experience like violence, racism and family struggles that at times are uncomfortable but AMUSINGLY RAW. RIVERA'S GENUINE PASSIONATE JOURNEY IS A CAPTIVATING PLAY ANY CULTURAL DEMOGRAPHIC WILL ENJOY.
RAVE REVIEW (GO!)
BELLOWING, WILDLY GESTICULATION AND POSTURING, RENE RIVERA GIVES AN ATHLETIC, AT TIMES MANIC PERFORMANCEin his autobiographical and bilingual one-man show (written by his wife, Stacey Martino) that examines his upbringing, noble ancestry and career struggles. From playing an avocado as a kiddie in a school pageant to acting studies at Juilliard in New York, where his dreams of inhabiting the great Shakespearean roles are tempered but not quashed, the Mexican-American actor battles disappointment, typecasting and addictive behaviors. INTERESTINGLY SELF-REFLEXIVE, at times Rivera examines the dramatic elements of his own story and play as it unfolds and finds it wanting. VIVIDLY DESCRIBING his childhood in a San Antonio barrio...RIVERA INVOKES HIS SCRAPPY INFANCY WITH CHILDLIKE WONDERMENT AND GLEE. His hometown is BEAUTIFULLY REALIZED by set designer Danuta Tomzynski... Jeremy Pivnick's colorful lighting design melds well with Mat Hale's GORGEOUS video projections. The sound design by Jade Puga and Richard Montes evokes Rivera's most TEMPESTUOUS experiences. It's a rage-fueled rant of a show, at times exhausting to watch, but nonetheless ENTERTAINING THROUGHOUT.
Boyle Heights Beat
THE AUDIENCE AT CASA 0101 WAS IMMEDIATELY DRAWN TO THE PLAY when Rivera’s outburst is heard offstage: “ I know exactly who I am!” With hushed whispers and audience leaning in their seats to put a face to the powerful voice, a patron rises from his seat and sneaks a peek through the door. Rivera storms in; repeatedly shouting he knows exactly who he is.
RIVERA GOES ON TO BEAUTIFULLY PORTRAY HIS FIRST GENERATION MEXICAN-AMERICAN PARENTS, who have reached exhaustion after raising six children. Once a respectful and lively musician, Rivera’s father falls into alcoholism, while his humble mother tries to find strength to raise another child in a problematic world.
Life in 1970’s Texas was alienating for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans alike. With the Chicano Movement escalating across the country, Rivera was aware of a rising discrimination against Mexican-Americans, an outlook he says still sticks to this cultural group. “Back then it was unknown territory and a lot of Mexican-Americans were segregated, whereas now we’re more integrated,” said Rivera. Following an occurrence of police harassment in his own home, and a delinquent older brother to look up to, Rivera’s childhood was no stranger to stereotyping and racism, and his escape was his father’s stories of their ancestry and kings of old. In Rivera’s opinion, Mexican-Americans and their cultural identity have undergone several transitions since then.
“Back in the 1970’s it was more political, the Chicanos were about Chicano pride, and now there’s more of us and I think some people, unfortunately, are intimidated by that and they feel the face of America should be a certain kind of face. That’s why I think there’s racism, before it was hatred, but now it’s fear,” Rivera said. Like any young adult’s taste of the real world, Rivera’s transition to drama school in New York was a difficult and lonely one, spent yearning to hear his mother’s voice and the innocent mischief of his boyhood pal. After going full circle, RIVERA RHYTHMICALLY GLIDES THROUGH EACH CHARACTER WITH CHARM AND PLAYFULNESS. Accompanied by A CAPTIVATING AND CULTURALLY RICH SET DESIGN, THE AUDIENCE IS MESMERIZED by a series of video projections encompassing Aztec, Mexican, and American motifs.
Rivera’s growth into marriage and fatherhood led him to ultimately characterize his identity, not by cultural standards, but by those exact terms. Not only is he a Mexican-American, but also a son, a brother, a father, a husband. “It’s a feeling that a person hopefully gets when they’re able to step away from themselves and be able to take care of another person and love them unconditionally, and it doesn’t matter what culture you’re from,” said Rivera. “It’s about really giving to the people you love, your family with all their faults and people in general. It’s more about being human.”
"The King of the Desert" EMBODIES THE SPIRIT OF BOYLE HEIGHTS! THE ENTIRE PLAY IS BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN. It bridges drama and comedy, English and Spanish, political and personal... IT BINDS MALE AND FEMALE, DARK AND LIGHT, IN A WAY THAT UPHOLDS THE PLAY'S INTENT, WHICH IS TO BUILD UNITY as you might build a house. As you might build a skyscraper. As you might build a revolution...RATHER THAN A CULTURE CLASH, THIS PLAY IS A CULTURE DANCE... The set (Danuta Tomzynski), art work (Astrid Chevallier), projections (Blair Thompson), video (Mat Hale), lighting (Jeremy Pivnick), sound (David B. Marling, Jade Puga, Richard Montes) and direction (Sal Romeo) combine with (René) RIVERA'S ROBUST PERFORMANCE to CREATE A MAGIC that is wonderfully Mexican-American. THERE IS SIMPLY NO BETTER WAY TO SPEND A LOS ANGELES EVENING!"
Former Artistic Director, Brava Theater Center, San Francisco, CA - Ellen Gavin
""Experienced A TOUR-DE-FORCE PERFORMANCE last night at Josefina Lopez' gorgeous new Casa 0101 Theater (Brava mujer!) by the BRILLIANT René Rivera, written by Stacey Martino and directed by Sal Romeo. It traces René's path from a San Antonio barrio to Juilliard through ancient Mexico, Shakespeare and a painful childhood that spawned his artistry. RUSH AND SEE IT, YOU'LL BE BLOWN AWAY BY HIS CRAFT AND HEART!"
Voice of America News
Friday, February 10, 2012
Latina Playwright Josefina Lopez Tells Immigrant Stories
"Immigrants are often caught between the cultures of their homeland and their adopted country. Mexican American playwright Josefina Lopez is showcasing the struggles of Latino immigrants through film, and through a community theater in Los Angeles. Our correspondent spoke with her about bringing those immigrant stories to the public. Josefina Lopez speaks with actor Rene Rivera about his one-man play. Called The King of the Desert, it deals with his struggles growing up in a barrio, or ghetto, in Texas near the U.S. border with Mexico. “My neighborhood is buzzing with conjunto music, a distinctly Tex-Mex sound," said Rivera.
This is the kind of story Lopez wants to put on stage at her community theater, called Casa 0101. Casa is Spanish for “home.” Zero-one-Zero-One refers to the digital bits and bytes of the information age. She told an earlier immigrant story in Real Women Have Curves, an acclaimed play that became a successful film 10 years ago. Lopez coauthored the screenplay and America Ferrera starred in the film. Lopez says that story needed to be told... it's speaking a truth that goes beyond being Latino or being a woman. It's about people always underestimating you.”
In his play being performed now at the theater, Rene Rivera looks at the difficulty navigating life between two cultures. “It is the life of a Hispanic family living in the United States and yet not being part of the United States," said Rivera. "And so being sort of locked and stuck in between the two cultures, and trying to be reverent to both of them.” It's opening night for the new production, and this play has a personal message for one Mexican-born immigrant, medical researcher Alonso Arellano. “This is wonderful," said Arellano. "I want this to stay and to grow. We should have more theaters like this.” Josefina Lopez says there are thousands of stories like this from the Latino community and other immigrant groups just waiting to be told."
Monday, January 16, 2012
Originally produced at the El Centro Theatre in Hollywood, CA in 2010 under the direction of Valentino Ferreira, “The King of the Desert,” was most recently presented at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, CA in 2011. The new production of “The King of the Desert” at Casa 0101 will be staged by multiple award-winning director, Sal Romeo. The set is designed by Danuta Tomzynski, with lighting by Jeremy Pivnick and visual effects by Mat Hale.
Josefina López, Production Co-Producer and Founder/Artistic Director of Casa 0101, said: “We are very excited to bring this beautiful new production to our theatergoers here in Boyle Heights. The play’s content and story about a Mexican American boy’s journey from a Texas barrio to The Juilliard School and Broadway is empowering and important for people of all ethnic backgrounds to experience.”
Co-Producer David Llauger-Meiselman said: “During the course of the run of this production, local students from East Los Angeles schools will be bussed in to see the production. These performances will be followed by informal discussions with actor René Rivera and the students, who will have an opportunity to learn how René changed his life’s path from his early beginnings growing up in a barrio to where he is in life today.”
Playwright and Co-Producer Stacey Martino said: “My play is an ‘against all odds’ look at how cultural history and personal mythology which some may think might limit us, can actually set us free instead. The play takes us on a Mexican American journey that explores a universal struggle to become our most authentic selves.”
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
"“The King of the Desert” explores the way our cultural identity often informs our personal view of ourselves and in turn affects our children. The play strives to present accurate Mexican American history that is often overlooked as seen through the eyes of one ordinary man surmounting extraordinary struggles. During a time in which immigration issues and stereotypical images of Latinos are still prevalent in society today, this play focuses on a forgotten story, a true account of a Mexican American experience."