Teatro Pueblo Nuevo was officially formed last September in Carlsbad’s New Village Arts Theatre, with the purpose of being a bilingual and bicultural outreach initiative. A new staging of Jose Rivera’s surreal romantic drama, Cloud Tectonics, serves as the first mainstage production for the program.
On a rainy Los Angeles evening, a pregnant woman, Celestina del Sol (Nadia Guevara), hitches a ride with baggage handler Anibal de la Luna (Jose Balistrieri). She is looking for the father of her unborn child, and Anibal kindly lets her stay at his house for the night.
Once they arrive at Anibal’s home, strange things begin to happen. Electricity stops working, and Celestina shares stories about her past with Anibal– stories that sound exaggerated and unrealistic. Anibal might be overwhelmed by Celistina’s unusual personality, but they are soon attracted to each other.
Audiences probably shouldn’t know too much about the tale in advance, except that Cloud Tectonics isn’t afraid to be really weird. At one point on opening night, an audience member was heard asking out loud, “what the hell?” I felt that others were thinking the same thing at various times during the performance.
Rivera’s writing in the 90-minute, one-act play has the characters often saying things that are completely unexpected, including references to sex, death and family. For every bizarre exchange that occurs, there is often a cleverly funny line or affecting plot point to keep theatregoers invested in the play, its situations and characters.
Guevara and Balistrieri are likably sympathetic, no matter how unordinary their characters become. After Anibal and Celestina form a close bond, the actors bring a lot of warmth to their roles.
Arguably, the most realistic performance of the evening is Javier Guerrero’s portrayal of Anibal’s soldier brother, Nelson. Guerrero turns Nelson’s politically incorrect and offensive character into a sympathetic person who loves his sibling.
Partially enhancing the strange events and situations that occur is Herbert Siguenza’s depiction of a dangerous LA. In his first work as a solo director, and with a story taking place almost completely after dark, Siguenza stages a tense atmosphere where grim situations seem likely for Celestina and Anibal.
Creating a certain amount of anxiety are Blake McCarty’s projections, which don’t always show the City of Angels in a positive light. That’s partially because Rivera wrote Cloud Tectonics as a response to the good and bad aspects of LA in the 1990’s.
Good aspects, including the optimistic personalities of Celestina and Anibal, are balanced with references to grimmer subjects such as natural disasters, war and racism.
Christopher Scott Murillo’s set contributes to the mixture of bleakness and hope in his presentation of Anibal’s house, where the scenery can come across as either gritty or ethereal, depending on the sequence.
Despite the excellent contributions from the cast and crew, it may take a while for theatregoers to fully get on board with the romance. Certain discussions, monologues and scenes can strike a jarring chord with the audience.
A big reason, however, that Cloud Tectonics is worth recommending is the manner in which the narrative progresses in the second half of the play. There is a lot of mystery involving Celestina, which continues for a large part of the evening.
When information about her is finally revealed, the show goes in interesting directions that will leave people thinking about all the symbolism and metaphors from Rivera. Major revelations and twists satisfy, and can lead to interesting conversations after the conclusion.
If you give Cloud Tectonics a chance, you’ll enjoy the emotional payoffs that the love story offers. This is a promising and major step forward for Teatro Pueblo Nuevo, and the programming that the initiative offers seems destined to expand in the future.