Reviews, Quotes and Articles
from El Centro Theatre
As a high school counselor I feel that it is important for my students to see “The King of the Desert” because the struggles presented in the play are ones that resonate with today's youth. In a society based on alienation, superficiality and a disconnect from history and meaning, “The King of the Desert” inspires youth of color to step out of the shadows of forgetfulness and to reconnect with the splendor of their culture, realizing that they too are kings and queens.
Four Out of Four Stars
"(René) Rivera has fashioned an IMPASSIONED ONE-MAN SHOW out of his Mexican-American experiences, The King of the Desert. Written by his wife Stacey Martino and directed by Valentino Ferreira (all three ACTORS STUDIO STALWARTS)…played out VIVIDLY and POWERFULLY by Rivera, whose SOLO PERFORMANCE IS ONE OF THE BEST I'VE EVER SEEN!
The Tolucan Times
"In an AMAZING TOUR DE FORCE PERFORMANCE, René Rivera ASTONISHES THE AUDIENCE with his portrayal of a Mexican-American actor/husband/father/son, who struggles both personally and culturally to find his identity. Pushed by his wife and propelled by love of her and his daughter, the actor makes public his search to understand his cultural lineage; the personal confusion that led him to moments of escape; and his history of acting that continually made use of his greatest survival tool, his imagination. Remarkably, Rivera plays the actor as a little boy and teenager – and his mother, father, teacher, neighborhood bully, brother, cop and others – with as much CREDIBILITY AND PASSION as he plays the actor as a grown man…WRITTEN TO PERFECTION. Throughout, (Stacey) Martino's generous heart, PASSION FOR TRUTH AND COMPELLING SENSE OF URGENCY DOMINATE THE STORYTELLING and make this SPECTACULAR PLAY an EXTRAORDINARY, FRESH THEATRE EXPERIENCE. DIRECTED WITH EXUBERANCE by Valentino Ferriera"
Hoy LA, Los Angeles Times
"AN INSPIRING AND INTENSE STORY with ONE EXTRAORDINARY ACTOR and many, many souls. I WAS SPEECHLESS!"
Los Feliz Ledger
Marilyn Towner Oliver
"I enjoyed Stacey Martino's new production, 'The King of the Desert.' The play features her husband, René Rivera. His ENERGETIC PERFORMANCE IS A TOUR DE FORCE as he not only portrays himself at various stages of his life, but also transforms himself into many other characters, a troubled child; a disturbed brother and his mother. The work provides an INTIMATE INSIGHT into the problems facing creative individuals caught in an effort to reconcile the imperatives of their surroundings with their desires for self-expression in a larger society where stereotypes and prejudice often hold them back."
"Actor René Rivera performs all of the different characters on his own with GREAT FLOW AND LIVELINESS. It is ASTOUNDING the way in which HE SHIFTS EFFORTLESSLY FROM ONE CHARACTER TO THE NEXT, keeping the dialogue going, switching back and forth from English to beautifully enunciated Spanish. His performance is SO WELL DONE you forget about Mr. Rivera and become TOTALLY SPELLBOUND by each new character he brings to life. THE PERFORMANCE IS ALSO A GREAT TESTAMENT TO THE DIRECTOR Valentino Ferreira's work."
Five Out of Five Stars
“(Rene') Rivera's performance is ASTOUNDING! He is ELECTRIC, PASSIONATE and LUMINOUS in portraying every character and in telling every aspect of his story. Every movement, every gesture is RIVETING and MEANINGFUL....Under (Valentino) Ferreira's FAST PACED DIRECTION, Rivera is a FIREBALLOF ENERGY recreating a bevy of characters from his youth, including his father, mother, teachers, sidekicks and drug addicted older sibling Jose'... He is at once AMUSING, CHARMING, PLAYFUL...(Stacey) Martino's transitions through the different stages and locales are SMOOTH and FOCUSED. Danuta Tomzynski's set design of the San Antonio barrio is EVOCATIVE and RICH in detail... A WINNER! BRAVO!”
Academy Award and Golden Globe Nominated Director
"I AM DRUNK WITH THIS PLAY. I am so moved. Every moment is TRUE and POWERFUL. Stacey Martino's WRITING IS LIKE POETRY. Valentino Ferriera's DIRECTION IS SPOT ON, and René Rivera's ACTING IS ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT!"
Three time Emmy Award Winning Actress
"I NEED SIX NEW WORDS to describe this work. The King of the Desert is the name of the play, and RENE RIVERA IS KING OF THE STAGE!"
Academy Award and Golden Globe Nominated Actress
"This play is ONE OF THE BEST SHOWS I'VE SEEN IN A LONG TIME. It should go to New York. It should go everywhere. Everybody needs to see this play. The performance I attended was a UNIQUE, CAPTIVATING and SPECIAL evening in the theatre. The writing, direction and acting were so THRILLING the entire audience couldn't contain themselves by the play's end, and leapt to their feet for A SUSTAINED STANDING OVATION!
Award Winning Playwright and Screenwriter
"René Rivera's TRANSCENDENT PERFORMANCE in Stacey Martino's 'The King of the Desert' is METHOD ACTING AT IT'S FINEST! ACTORS, WRITERS AND DIRECTORS SHOULD RUN, NOT WALK, TO SEE THIS BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN AND DIRECTED PLAY!"
Award Winning Actress
"This was a TRANSCEDENT EXPERIENCE. René Rivera is INCREDIBLE. His transitions were seamless and the power of his work is STUNNING. Stacey Martino's script is multilayered, each nuance brought out in high definition by the director, Valentino Ferreira. THIS IS WHAT THEATRE IS ALL ABOUT. Anyone looking for an authentic theatre experience will have it with “the King of the Desert.”
San Fernando Valley Sun
Thursday, May 20, 2010
"The King of the Desert" by Stacey Martino is described as "a Mexican American boy's journey of self-discovery through adulthood and the realization of his dreams." For some, the term "Mexican American" would set off alarm bells indicating that the play might be some kind of a "Leave it to Beaver" view of the Chicano experience. They would be wrong. Of all the works produced since the advent of the Chicano movement in the late 1960s that deal with what it means to be a Mexican growing up in America, "The King of the Desert" ranks among the very best.
"King of the Desert" is a wholly introspective play. Plays about self discovery are tricky to write. They can easily turn into self-indulgent raps that only a mother could love. Martino avoids that trap. It is a profound and moving work that offers insight not only into the individual inhabits.
From a purely theatrical viewpoint, this is an interesting play. The plot does not follow a linear chronology but instead moves back and forth between past and present. It is a one-man show and Rene Rivera gives a brilliant performance, a tour de force that is a joy to watch.
The playwright occasionally pierces the fourth wall. Very early in the play, the actor says he thinks he's there for a reading, picks up a script and reads the opening lines. It is, in fact, the script of "The King of the Desert" and it is the opening the audience has just seen. The actor comments directly to the audience and they share a joke.
The central question of the play, who am I, is established by no less an authority than the Prince of Denmark. Hamlet's famous soliloquy is performed in English and then is Spanish, losing none of its power in the translation, and sets the tone for the rest of the play.
The play follow two streams of consciousness. In the present, the character addresses the unseen individual about his fears and concerns. In the past, key events in his life are revealed: His childhood in San Antonio, his dream of becoming an actor, attending Julliard, acting on Broadway and in films. Movement between past and present is generally seamless and the two streams merge at the end of the play.
There are many themes that are familiar to Chicano audiences. Growing up in a poor neighborhood, police harassment, being told you're not American which leads to a the feeling that the larger society will never allow a Mexican to succeed, no matter how many generations he's lived here. There is also the positive: the love within family; the teacher who believes and encourages you; the father who tells you to be proud of your ancestors who built one of the world's great civilizations and to remember that your are a king of the desert, finally achieving his dream of becoming a successful actor.
Only half of the power of this play comes from its well-written script. The other half is the performance by Rene Rivera. He commands the stage and not just because he's the only actor. A lesser actor would simply show the audience the events of his life.Rivera entices the audience to experience it with him, to sit in the front seat of the emotional roller coaster ride Rivera takes you on. Rivera plays all the characters and he is able to give each one a distinct personality, whether it's through a change in voice, stance or attitude or all of the above. In one humorous scene he is breaking up with four different girl friends, seemingly at the same time, and it takes just a few words and his expression to tell you everything about the relationship. IF you've ever wanted to see an actor at the top of his game, go buy your ticket for "The King of the Desert" now.
Rivera has an extensive acting background. He has studied acting with Kevin Kline, John Stix. and Maureen Halligan at The Julliard School from 1982-1986, where he was a Theatre Major awarded a full scholarship. He is a Lifetime Member of The Actors Studio and has acted extensively on both the East and the West coasts. He has appeared on Broadway at Circle in the Square in "Salome" starring and directed by Al Pacino, and followed the production and Pacino when "Salome" was performed here at The Wadsworth Theatre. He has extensive off Broadway credits and has done a lot of regional theater, performing Shakespeare as well as contemporary plays.
Rivera's film credits include: "Disturbia;" "Before Night Falls;" "Bordertown;" "Lords of Dogtown;" "Carlito's Way" and "It Could Happen To You," among others. He recently completed production on his latest film, "Wilde Salome." starring, directed and written by Al Pacino.
Among the television shows he's appeared in are: "Prison Break" (FOX); "Shark" (CBS); "Law and Order" (NBC); "The X-Files" (FOX); "E-Ring" (NBC); "ER" (NBC); "Nash Bridges" (CBS); "Brooklyn South" "The Old Man and the Sea" (NBC); and a PBS production of "Hamlet"
Stacey Martino began her theatrical work in Philadelphia under the guidance of Freedom Theater's award winning director Walter Dallas and acclaimed actors Johnny Hobbs Jr. and Irene Baird. At the age of 19, she was a founding member and served as Artistic Director for The What Now Theater Company, which was committed to works about social justice issues in the early nineties. They performed in Philadelphia and Baltimore. In 1992 she received her BFA degree in Theater from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
Martino studied acting with Shelley Winters in Los Angeles from 1992 to '93 before moving to New York in 1994. She was cast in one of the first joint venture films between the United States and Russia in 1994 entitled "ZigZag". This experience led her to peruse her Masters of Fine Arts Degree in Theater at The New School for Social Research in New York, where she was a member of the first graduating class in 1997.
Martino was accepted as Lifetime Member of the prestigious Actors Studio on her first audition in New York in 1997 where she worked with and under Arthur Penn, Ellen Burnstyn, Geraldine Baron, Elizabeth Kemp, Lee Grant, Arthur Storch and Grank Corsaro. Later, in 1998 after moving back to Los Angeles, she studied acting privately with Sandra Seacat and at The Actors Studio with Martin Landau, Joanne Linville, Mark Rydell and Barbara Bain. She was the youngest member accepted into Mark Rydell's and Mark Travis' Master Directing Workshop at The Actors Studio in 2004. As an actress she has worked in film and television, including "When Billy Beat Bobby (ABC), "Life on Liberty Street" (Lifetime) and "What Women Want" (Paramount Pictures). She has also performed in over 50 plays.
She is the Performer/Writer of the critically acclaimed one woman play "A Slow Crawl Home" an exploration of homelessness. Currently she is preparing for a remounting of "A Slow Crawl Home" to be produced by the non-profit organization, Chrysalis, for their volunteers, board members, donors and non-profits dedicated to the homeless in Los Angeles. She directed a short mockumentary examining the healthcare crisis in America "Critical Condition" which is in post production.
Rivera and the playwright Martino are married. In the program notes, she states the play is an attempt to better understand her husband. It's clear she's succeeded. This is a very insightful play and a must see experience for anyone interested in great theater.
Valentino Ferreira's direction was crisp and utilized the whole stage to great advantage. The set designed by Danuta Tomzynski created by an overall visual theme for the play while still providing the proper background for the more intimate scenes. The set was built by Michael Brainard. The innovative lighting design, which enhanced the play in no uncertain terms, was done by Tony Sanders.
LA Stage Magazine
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Standing in front of the semi-finished set at El Centro Theatre's Chaplin stage, actor Rene Rivera expresses understated pride that his wife Stacey Martino has written a one-person play that chronicles his family's extended journey as Mexican Americans. "Over a period of time, she began writing a kind of journal that was her effort to understand who I was, as a child, and who I am now as a man who is her lover and her husband. It has morphed from there."
"One thing has led to another and it grew, becoming more in depth to include a more expanded view of my family. Eventually, we began to discuss the possibility of putting this up as a stage play." The world premiere of "The King of the Desert" will open on Cinco de Mayo.
Martino, who is from Philadelphia, recalls the otherworldly experience she had when she first visited Rivera's family home in San Antonio, Texas. "IT was such a unique place that was completely beyond my experience. It was like being thrown back to another time. I was so fascinated by the people of Rene's life while he was growing up and the stories his mother and sisters told me. His father died when he was very young. I also met cousins who really had some stories about his expanded family. And that's what started me off writing short journal passages about Rene and his family, as well as my feelings about Rene, his family and their life in the U.S.
Martino admits part of her hunger to absorb her husband's culture was her early experience of being raised in a single mother nome with no cultural identity. "My mother eventually married the man who raised me and who I consider my father. He came from a strong italian family and culture and I just drank it up. I loved it. I just naturally wanted to absorb Rene's culture the same way, especially when I became pregnant with out daughter."
"I bombarded Rene with questions about his past because I wanted our daughter to be a part of it.. At first, Rene would ward me off by saying, "I'm not an American." But I was determined to find that history for myself and for our daughter so she would know her Mexican American heritage."
Both Rivera and Martino are quick to affirm "The King of the Desert" is a work of fiction, inspired by the elements of Rivera's life and family history. He portrays all the characters in the play which Martino describes, as "one boy's search to find out who he really is in an environment that does not encourage self-expression. He learns to survive by becoming anyone other than himself in times of crises, from a Mexican Revolutionary poet, to a Mayan Shaman, to a werewolf."
Mirroring Rivera's actual history, the boy's journey begins in a small Texas barrio and eventually leads to Juilliard School in New York and to the Broadway stage.
The career common denominator for Rivera, Martino and their director Valentino Ferriera is The Actors Studio. Martino began her theatrical work in Philadelphia. At age 19, she founded The What Now Theater Company, which was committed to works about social justice issues. During 1992/93, she studied acting with Shelley Winters in Los Angeles, before moving to New York in 1994. Martino was accepted as a Lifetime Member of The Actors Studio on her first audition in New York in 1997.
Rivera, also a Lifetime Member of The Actors Studio, has performed as an actor on both coasts. He has appeared on Broadway at Circle in the Square in "Salome" starring and directed by Al Pacino. Off Broadway credits include extensive work at the Public Theater, including "Richard II" (directed by Steven Berkoff), "In the Jungle of Cities" (directed by Anne Bogart) and "Hamlet" (directed by Kevin Kline). Locally, Rivera performed in the critically acclaimed "They Shoot Horses Don't They?" at Greenway Court, directed by Rick Sparks.
Ferreira is an MFA graduate student in Acting and Playwriting of The Actors Studio program at the New School for Social Research in New York. Like Martino and Rivera, he is a Lifetime Member of The Actors Studio. This is his third collaboration with Martino. He previously directed her one-woman show "A Slow Crawl Home" at the Laurelgrove Theatre. He also staged Martino's play "The Gift of Peace" which toured cities affected by violence around the U.S. in 2007.
"Valentino and I went to the Mater's program together in New York." says Martino. "Rene and I met out here in Los Angeles at The Actors Studio. Actually, I saw him on stage in classes before we were ever together. He was always brilliant. I thought at the time, I can never do a scene with him or I'll fall in love him. So I fell in love with him but i never did a scene with him."
Martino took that memorable first visit to Rivera's home in San Antonio four years ago prior to the birth of their daughter. She wrote the first draft of "The King of the Desert" two years later over a two day period.
"Stacey tends to write her pieced in 10 to 15 page spurts." interjects Ferreira. "When you first read them, they are very literary. So, I like to go in and find the places to add or expand on a character. We discuss it. She then goes off and comes back the next day with a new or expanded character. We start mining and questioning the characters until we know more about them and how they fit into the through-line. Eventually they evolve into a storyline that fuels their further evolution. Eventually we have the finished piece."
"Actually, for me, the evolution starts when i am able to put the script away and truely begin inhabiting the characters," says Rivera. "I must admit, some of the material makes me uncomfortable because it hits so close to home. But, the great thing about working on this with Stacey and Valentino is that I feel so safe on stage. And when you are safe, you are fearless."