Luis Alfaro’s Hero, directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera, is an intelligent and funny 
comedy about a returned Iraq war vet and his L.A. based family. (Hero is both 
the title of the play and our the name of one of the protagonists, though both 
are used ironically.)

Hero’s mother and uncle are proud of their returning son/nephew, back from 
Iraq with a broken arm and other injuries. Hero was hurt, though, not in battle, 
but from a fall off of his truck.  Because Hero was posted far from military action, 
Iraq was mostly a big bore to him, “a larger bigger version of San Bernardino. No 
In & Out, no HBO, no Skin-emax, no Lakers. I shaved my head for this? What the 
fuck!” Though politically unaware (Iraqis are “some weird clothes stuff people,” 
he says), Hero now finds himself at odds with his younger brother Junior, whose 
views reflect the opposite end of the political spectrum.  Junior recently became 
a bit of a local celebrity for having torn up a U.S. flag. Well, actually it was a flag 
printed on a Ralphs shopping bag, paper being a lot easier to tear than nylon. 
Junior wasn’t doing it to get on TV, but a KTLA van happened to be in the 
vicinity and the station made a big deal about it. Still, it’s not fair that he should 
be criticized for expressing his opinions. “Old geezers get to express themselves,” 
he exclaims. “Why can’t I?”

Hero and Junior live with their divorced mother and their Viet Nam vet uncle.  In 
a “Mom always liked you better” moment, Junior’s mother tells her younger son, 
“You matter, but he went” (and faced the dangers of fighting in Iraq). 
Dangerous, my eye, responds Junior.  “It’s more dangerous for the Sparkletts guy 
in Echo Park.” Junior is also at odds with his uncle, who fought in “a real war with 
real heroes.”  When Junior goes over to the dining table to get a piece of pizza, 
his uncle tells him, “Don’t eat the Costco if you don’t like the country.” And 
later, “I won’t rest until I see you in a uniform!”  This doesn’t mean that Uncle is 
any more sympathetic to Hero’s position. Unlike his nephew, Uncle actually saw 
people who died, who were set on fire, who were ripped apart by dogs. “You’re 
not the hero,” he accuses Hero.  “I am.”

Things pick up when Hero’s girlfriend Destiny, a full-figured Valley girl, arrives.  
Destiny’s the kind of girl who can’t get over that Hero and Junior’s mom 
“actually makes real food and not out of a box.” Her goal is “to pose for 
something, but I don’t know what.” Maybe she’ll start her own business. After 
all, “that’s what junior college is for.”  Destiny on war: “War is sad.  War makes me 
sad. Yeah.  War and the soundtrack of Wicked are the two things that make 
me cry.” When Hero finds out some disturbing news from Destiny, she asks, “What 
am I supposed to do? Wait for you until you get back from the war?” (I think 
you get the picture about Destiny.)

Eventually, Alfaro’s play takes a serious turn when Hero realizes that, unlike Paul 
Bowles’ hero in The Sheltering Sky, he has not yet gone to his own “Sheltering 
Sky,” and that “the time has come for me to find my completeness.”

Alfaro, whose Electricidad (Sophocles’ Elektra transposed to East L.A.) I saw at 
the Mark Taper Forum a few years back, originally wrote Hero about a Latino 
family, however in conversations with Rivera, who is from the Philippines, the 
playwright and the director realized that the family could just as easily be Asian 
American.  Thus, this Playwrights’ Arena production features two different casts.  

Though the Latin cast has an equally fine group of actors, I opted for the Asian 
cast in order to see Jin Suh (so outstanding in Durango) and Rodney To, a New 
York based actor whom I had heard much about.  Both give excellent 
performances.  Suh perfectly captures the boredom and frustration of his 
slacker/soldier character, and To is dynamic and funny as the brother who 
always has an answer for everything. The two brothers’ opening scene quarrel is 
hilarious, one-liner following one-liner, their “Red State/Blue State” debate 
ending only when they decide to share a joint.

Mom is played by Natsuko Ohama, in a very different performance from her turn 
as Imelda Marcos in Dogeaters, also directed by Rivera.  Her deadpan delivery 
makes her lines even funnier, especially when she bemoans the fact that she 
somehow “missed” all the changes that have taken place in the world during 
her 30 years with the DWP. Ohama is funnier still when she gets stoned, has a 
sudden attack of real sobs, and then goes back to what she was talking about 
as if nothing had happened.  Longtime TV and movie vet Dana Lee, as Uncle, 
provides a great foil for her and for his two nephews. He’s got the macho 
swagger I’ve seen many times in my Asian ESL students, mixed with jingoistic 
American pride in being a Viet Nam vet.

Carla Jimenez portrays Destiny in both the Asian and the Latin casts.  She is quite 
a trip in the role, a very “in your face” tough girl, but with a tender side, and very 
much a mind of her own, though not always the sharpest one.

Rivera once again proves himself to be one of our finest directors, and as usual 
he has surrounded himself with a first-rate design team. John H. Binkley’s multi-
level living-room/bedroom set features a mishmash of discount store furniture 
and family hand-me-downs, the living room decorated with American flags, 
yellow ribbons, a red, white, and blue Welcome Home banner, and patriotic 
mobiles hanging from the ceiling.  There’s an Elvis cushion on the sofa and an 
Asian dragon and mask among the knickknacks. Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting keeps 
the audience’s attention focused on where the action is while allowing actors 
elsewhere on the set to continue their muted conversations.  Hero’s dreams are 
projected on the ceiling above his bed (designed by Ron Saito) with Bob 
Blackburn’s sound design proving appropriate sound effects for the dreams. 
Chelsee Venis’ costumes are just right for the various characters.

Alfaro’s play is brief (only about 70 minutes) and ends a bit abruptly, but 
nonetheless makes good points about the many ironies surrounding the 
American presence in Iraq, and about the polarization which divides our 
society. It is an entertaining and thought-provoking piece of theater.

Studio Stage Theatre, 520 N. Western Ave., Hollywood. 

-Steven Stanley
December 9, 2007

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