Local Arts Reviews


Santos & Santos: Crime Family

Santa Cruz Center for Culture,

Through December 2

Running Time: 2 hrs, 15 min

The Sopranos? Not hardly. It's the Santos brothers.

Santos & Santos, a contemporary drama by El Paso native Octavio Solis, is loosely based on the Chagra brothers of El Paso and their sensational murder-for-hire of U.S. District Judge John Wood -- you know, the one in which Woody Harrelson's father is accused of being the hit man. The three Santos brothers, working in the legal field, have to come to terms with culture, power, and the nightmare of pursuing the American dream. Tradition and assimilation, loyalty and ambition, honor and deception, create dualities that are often impossible to bridge, and Solis uses that to build tension in his work. The play opens with Tomas Santos coming home from a career in the DA's office in San Diego, California, after the passing of Don Miguel, the family patriarch. Consumed by his father's memory, Tomas makes an effort to unite with his brothers and instead pulls them apart; in trying to preserve his father's dreams, he destroys them and in the process brings down a first generation Chicano family's rise in America. When Tomas says, "Forgive me my Chicanismo," it is a line that reaches out to anyone who has emigrated here, no matter how many generations back or from where.

Solis creates scenes with a few lines and that moves the play forward quickly in time with no set changes. San Antonio director Chris Thompson shines with this material, especially in the scene when the family members find out they've been busted and all are frantically calling each other; the setting and timing are brilliant, giving the drama a humorous and cinematic feel. Still, there are some holes in the script that leave questions unanswered. It doesn't explain why Tomas left the family in the first place or why the judge is so protective of him when the feds are bringing the family down.

Raul Castillo's intense energy adds a desperate edge to Tomas that he maintains throughout the play. However, his rapid delivery at times makes it difficult for him to get all the words out. As the other Santos brothers, Mike D. Garcia and Gabriel Martinez turn in excellent performances and are quite believable. Local veteran actor Tomas Salas, as the longtime family friend and drug connection, and Teatro Humanidad founder Rupert Reyes, as Don Miguel, are surprise additions that add humor to this serious production. The simple set of painted panels of the West Texas landscape around El Paso created by Mele Juillera is stark yet visually striking.

The Austin premiere of Santos & Santos is Nushank Theater Collective's second production, and this new organization, started by young Latino actors and playwrights, is beginning to make an impact in the local theatre scene. Not only did Nushank put on a well-rehearsed show that ran smoothly, but they managed to bring in a diverse audience of young theatregoers to see their hard work. Santos & Santos is something that Nushank can be proud of.

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Santos & Santos, Octavio Solis, NuShank Theatre Collective, Chris Thompson, Raul Castillo, Mike D. Garcia, Gabriel Martinez, Tomas Salas, Teatro Humanidad, Rupert Reyes

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