Last March, Su Teatro was making its way through the start of the run of “The War of the Flowers” when the pandemic shuttered everything. Its remounting of the original musical about a group of Mexican-American women fighting to unionize at a Brighton carnation farm arrives as a gift both purposeful and entertaining.
As Guadalupe “Lupe” Briseño, Felicia Gallegos Pettis anchors the show and imbues it with the determined spirit of the labor leader who was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame last year.
The musical joins a first-rate slew of currently running and upcoming works tackling and teasing Colorado history with vim, vision and rigor. Among them: The Catamounts’ “Land of Milk and Honey; Local Theater Company’s reprise of “Discount Ghost Stories: Songs from the Rockies” (June 24-July 15 at the Boulder Bandshell); and Control Group Productions’ collaboratively created “After the Flood” (see below).
If you go
“The War of the Flowers.” 3.5 stars. Written and directed by Anthony J. Garcia. Featuring Felicia Gallegos Pettis, Magally Luna, Yolanda Ortega, Jordan Hull, Paola Miranda, Camilo Luera, Paul Zamora, Phil Luna. Through June 27, at Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center, 721 Santa Fe Drive. 303-296-0212 or suteatro.org.
A memory play with a communal and documentary bent, “War of the Flowers” is a lively example of the campesino theater tradition forged by the United Farm Workers. (One of the numbers, “El Picket Sign,” is a Teatro Campesino original.)
Su Teatro’s artistic director, Anthony J. Garcia, conducted interviews (or better encouraged story circles) with some of the women involved in the strike in order to craft this tale of a pioneering moment in the Chicano rights movement of the 1960s and ’70s. He also directs.
In 1968, Briseño — along with Mary Padilla, Martha del Real, Mary Sailes and Rachael Sandoval — began organizing for livable wages and better working conditions at the Kitayama Carnation Farm. Owner Ray Kitayama had been interned with his parents and siblings at the Manzanar Internment Camp during World War II. That makes the increasingly ugly confrontations between him, foreman Chuck Boomer (Paul Zamora) and the low-paid, ill-treated women even more dismaying (as well as instructive of industry’s ability to create divisions in racial groups that might see themselves as allies).
In launching the National Flower Growers Organization, the women took tactics from the United Farm Workers, as well as the bold eagle logo and the slogan “Si, Su Puede” (“Yes, it is possible!”).
Although the spotlight occasionally left the action unfolding on too-dim a stage, the set design (by Steve Nash) is efficient and evocative. (So, too, are the costumes by Molly Gallegos and Arnold King’s sound design.) Behind the scrim, the band plays original music and songs (many of them composed by Garcia). Under guitarist Adolfo Romero’s sensitive direction, cellist Chandrika Prem and percussionist Logan Foy provide an accompaniment that is often poignant but also muscular when warranted.
A jukebox gets wheeled onto the stage to conjure a local watering hole. There, Lupe’s husband, José (Camilo Luera), is goaded by a group of men who see the women as a threat to their livelihoods. Increasingly aggravated, the factory’s manager, Boomer, verbally jabs at the men who support the union efforts, ridiculing them for not being able to keep their women in their place. When that macho tactic backfires, he and Kitayama rally the police.
If Zamora’s portrayal has the fervor of a casting-call henchman, Phil Luna’s portrayal of the floral industry titan (which is what Kitayama and his brothers became nationally) relies on a muted, businesslike conviction.
In his introductory remarks before Saturday’s show, the writer-director called “War of the Flowers” a work about patriarchy. It is — and more. It is a tale of gendered arrogance, to be sure. But it is also a saga of fortitude.
In a climactic scene, the two chain-link panels that have been standing upstage become the site of a violent showdown between the owner, the police and the exhausted but persevering women.
Taking its title from something the real Briseño said of her labor-organizing sisters, the set-piece song “Strong Women Stayed” speaks volumes about the activists who launched a union but also were instrumental in setting the tone for a larger rights movement. The strong stayed, stood pat and picketed. There was not a wilting flower among them.
“After the Flood”
Ten miles due south on Santa Fe Drive, “After the Flood” — developed by Control Group Productions, the Playground Ensemble and visual artist Adrienne DeLoe — is in its final weekend of telling a different, just as vital, Colorado story. This one is about, among other things, how citizens can interface with the environment after facing a natural disaster.
There are deer in the captivating outdoor performance “Hike,” which takes place at Reynold’s Landing in Littleton. The first sighting comes as one of the guides points out a loping dancer whose headdress resembles antlers, about 100 yards away.
If you go
“After the Flood.” 3.5 stars. A collaboration of Control Group Productions, the Playground Ensemble and Adrienne DeLoe. Featuring Danielle Dugas, Hannah Kaufmann, Conrad Kehn, Patrick Mueller, Caroline Sharkey, Sarah Whitnah, Kristine Whittle. Through June 19. Meet at Reynold’s Landing, 6745 S. Santa Fe Drive, Littleton. controlgroupproductions.org.
“Wild, right?” he says. “Just a couple steps from the brewery lawn, and the highway, and all of that.” Indeed, abutting the wooded space is Santa Fe Drive, or State Highway 85, and the sizeable Breckenridge Brewery and tasting room complex.
Another, more magical glimpse of a deer happened when some fellow audience members came to a full stop on the trail. Near a cottonwood, barely visible in the dusk and tall grasses, a doe stared back.
While there were to be more frolicking, leaping chimeras (courtesy Control Group and choreographer Patrick Mueller), that statue-like deer proved singular during the 80-minute show. Words like “show” and “audience” fall short in describing the ambitions and awe-teasing sweep of “After the Flood.”
The show is the first in a performance series called “Treeline,” which the collaborative trio intend to be (according to a release) “an exploration of the experience of wilderness, and a move to shift our relationship with nature in the Anthropocene era.” If you don’t recognize the word, Anthropocene is gaining currency as a way to talk about the geologic period in which we humans have a great (or not-so-great) effect on the environment and climate.
“After the Flood” recounts the 1965 flood that began gaining force near Castle Rock, overflowing creek banks, and then the South Platte, with the waters gathering force and trees and train cars and trailer homes and more as it roared toward Denver, finally tuckering out on the Eastern Plains.
The ramble is punctuated with pauses and prompts, asking you to smell and see, to breathe deeply and listen intently. There will be modest touching, maybe corny to some, in rituals intended to connect the fellow wanderers with the woods and each other. They often do just that.
The immersive amble takes its lovely, insightful language from a number of sources, among them: poet Mary Oliver (“attention is the beginning of devotion”); the Arapaho and Lakota peoples, who had names for the South Platte; and journalist Alan Prendergast and his engrossing 2015 feature “The1965 Flood: How Denver’s Greatest Disaster Changed the City” in Westword.
The Littleton location is significant because after the deluge, the citizens in the municipality urged federal officials in Washington, D.C., for the area to be designated a flood plain park. It was the nation’s first.
The piece spins the saying “all the world’s a stage” on its pretty little axis by making the open space trail an experiential saga. It’s a nature walk with benefits. One of the most beguiling is Sarah Whitnah’s plaintive violin and the percussive rhythms (drums, dead tree trunks, rocks) of Conrad Kehn, with a little help from the audience.
A note: Heed the emailed confirmation with info about appropriate gear for the easy, 1 1/2 mile trek: There will be bites (we had a tick). They also have a game plan for those with physical accessibility concerns. If you go for the later show, you may be treated to the best lighting design the state has to offer: sunset. Ah, wilderness.
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