An estranged father and son attempt a shipboard reconciliation in Jonathan Ceniceroz’s The Cruise, Latino Theatre Company’s enjoyable but less than satisfying World Premiere comedy, now playing at the Los Angeles Theatre Center downtown.

 The dad in question is Ramón Garcia (Ric Salinas), a onetime Chicano rabble-rouser turned cruise ship “enrichment lecturer” whose 20something son James (Kenneth Lopez), an NYU grad turned barista turned office manager, still nurses a grudge against all Ramón put wife and son through by losing one job after another for his political views and action.

Now, James seems more eager to strike up a friendship with Howard and Judith (Gary Lamb and Carolyn Almos), a couple of wealthy Arizonans on their umpteenth Caribbean voyage, than to share “bonding moments and shit like that” with Dad.

 Unlike adult stoner Howard, who’d like nothing better than to spend the entire cruise as high as a kite, beef-up-the-border Judith sees their ocean adventure as an opportunity to shore up support for the local Latino Republican candidate she’s putting her considerable inheritance behind.

Completing the cast of characters is flamboyant “European” cruise director Boyd Mathiessen (Brian Wallace), hardly overjoyed to find himself sharing the same ocean liner with longtime nemesis Ramón.

 Though considerably less gaydar-pinging than Boyd, James turns out to be 100% same-sex oriented, a revelation that only slightly fazes a father who claims to have known since his “sensitivo” son was three.

Recently split from his decade-and-a-half-older Moorish-Italian boyfriend, James blames Dad’s childhood name-calling (“cabróna, muchacha …”) for both the breakup with Daniel and his recent promiscuity, evidenced by an attempted drop-the-trousers shipboard seduction of guess which cruise director.

 And while we’re on the subject of gay, despite Boyd’s insistence that Javier, the ocean liner’s recently deceased Dominican dancer, was merely his much younger loincloth-clad “roommate,” passengers’ heartfelt condolences would seem to suggest otherwise.

Right now, however, Boyd has more pressing matters than grief on his mind, first and foremost insuring that Ramón, who has somehow gotten on board under an assumed name after having been banned from the entire Azura line for offensive, inflammatory behavior, be thrown off ship at its next stop.

 All of this might add up to considerably more than it does if The Cruise gave these stories more than forty-eight shipboard hours to unfold, allowing for a richer mining of a father-son conflict complicated by questions of Ramón’s possible (homo)sexual orientation, and an explanation for James’s nonchalance when offered the opportunity to work for a candidate presumably at odds with both his heritage and his politics.

Throughout The Cruise, playwright Ceniceroz underscores similarities between Columbus’s violent exploitation of the Arawak Indians and James’s seduction over to the political right, but a final scene juxtaposing Ramón’s impassioned recounting of colonizers’ murderous atrocities and a conversation during which Judith and James seal the political deal seems overkill, excuse the pun.

That’s not to say that The Cruise doesn’t prove for the most part an entertaining two-acter under Heath Cullens’ direction, Culture Clash’s Salinas knowing exactly how to milk just about every situation for laugh value.

 AMDA musical theater grad Lopez is a charmer even when James is less than charming (and shows off a delicious karaoke falsetto to boot), Wallace is a “gay or European?” hoot even if Boyd himself proves a frustrating mystery, and Lamb and Almos add interesting shadings to Howard and Judith.

Scenic designer Brittany Blouch has created a stylish dual-level cruise-ship-in-black complemented by Antoineta Castillo Carpio’s spot-on props and Justin Huen’s nuanced lighting. Ivan Robles’s sound design provides Grade-A effects, with Manee Leija’s cruise-ready costumes completing a topnotch design package. (If only cramped, insufficiently raked seating allowed better, more comfortable views of the above.)

Jagger Waters is stage manager and Gabe Figueroa is production manager.

 I enjoyed cruising with Ramón, James, and their shipmates. I would have enjoyed The Cruise more had it added up a more fully-developed, sharper-focused voyage.

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Latino Theatre Company, Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC), 514 South Spring Street, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
March 16, 2017
Photos: Grettel Cortes Photography


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