THEATER REVIEW: “Logan Heights” at OnStage Playhouse

The lobby is festooned with graffiti art: One poster brings the farmworkers’ usual strike cry into the present political reality: “El pueblo unido jamás será vendido” (the people united will never be sold, rather than defeated).

Another sign says “Make lowriders not war.”

Similar graffiti adorns the set inside the theater, all by way of contributing atmosphere for Josefina López’s 2009 play “Logan Heights,” playing through Oct. 12 at Chula Vista’s OnStage Playhouse.

Probably best known for her 1992 play “Real Women Have Curves” (made into a film in 2002), López writes of the immigrant experience with authority: born in San Luis Potosí in Mexico, she and her family came to the U.S. when she was five. She has called “Logan Heights” (originally titled “Boyle Heights” for the Los Angeles neighborhood where she grew up and still lives) an autobiographical play. (The title was changed by permission of the playwright.)

Jennifer Paredes shines as the main character – middle daughter Dalia Rosales, who came to the U.S. with her family when she was five. She is an actress and poet, a bit of a dreamer with an artist’s temperament who spends a fair amount of time on the roof of their house, pen in hand, writing poetry and, well, dreaming.

The product of the traditions and mores of her heritage – but with American attitudes – Dalia is the renegade of the family: she has had a series of boyfriends (even lived with some); she went to college; she wants to make her own money and decisions; marriage and family are not the first things on her agenda. As the play begins, she returns home after a breakup with latest boyfriend Craig.

This puts her at odds with elder sister Rosana (Desiree Ramirez), married for 15 years to Jaime (Paul Araujo) and mother of two. Even younger sister Margie (Kalani Bellofatto), at 20, is thinking marriage and family with Juan (Joe Nogra), though it would mean marrying outside the faith.

In time-skipping scenes that cover a span of 35 years, López shows us the generational differences and similarities in chasing a dream, Rosales style. Dalia’s mother Carmela paid her own price for the choices she made; Dalia’s way will be different but no less difficult.

One day, the family’s young and handsome neighbor Chava (Carlos Angel-Barajas) spots her on the roof and strikes up a conversation:

“Hey, you’re the weird sister in the family, aren’t you?”
“Who told you that?” Dalia asks.

He goes on to repeat what “the whole neighborhood knows: that you’re on boyfriend 23, you live with guys, and you can’t keep a job.”

He’s got her number – and her interest as well, especially after he tells her he’s a tagger and invites her along on a painting session.

But Dalia still longs to travel and see the world, so when Rosana talks Jaime into letting her go to Paris if she takes Dalia along (he doesn’t want to go), it’s a dream come true for both of them. I’ll leave you to find out what happens there.

This is a fine cast, headed by the luminous Paredes. Angel-Barajas’ Chava (with good chemistry and ‘tude to match Dalia’s) provides some engaging scenes with her.

Flores and Marrujo are excellent as “old school” parents Ruben and Carmela, who try but don’t quite get Dalia’s ideas.

Ramirez’s Rosana convinces as the traditionalist daughter with incipient feminist stirrings that make Araujo’s macho Jaime a bit nervous.

Bellofatto and Nogra are convincing as the younger generation, beginning to push back against tradition and custom.

Roman Rodriguez does what he can with the underwritten role of Dalia’s younger brother Ernie.

“Logan Heights” is a charming, sad, funny, touching and very human portrait of the meaning of home, family, tradition and self-determination.

The details

“Logan Heights” runs through Oct. 12 at OnStage Playhouse, 291 Third Ave., near F Street, Chula Vista.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (619) 422-7787 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.