Editor’s note, 2:30 p.m. 09/26/23: Due to a few cases of COVID-19, the Alley Theater has canceled scheduled performances this week and plans to open the show on October 3..
In American Mariachi, a group of young women decide to become mariachis, something that just wasn’t done in the 1970s. In the music-filled room about to open at the Alley Theater, five members of the large cast had to learn how to playing instruments they had never played before.
Houston actress Briana J. Resa (What a Christmas!, 72 miles to go…) is one of them and readily acknowledges that, although fun, learning to play an instrument as an adult is significantly more difficult than starting as a child.
“In the show we learn our instruments and in real life we learn our instruments. I play guitar,” she says.
The group is also backed by local mariachi musicians, including Saul Avalos, Carlos Manuel Castro, Roy Gonzalez and Nestor Ramirez. “Hearing them play is just breathtaking,” Resas says. “They propel the story with the music. So this show is actually more
American Mariachi begins with a young woman named Lucha (Gianna DiGregorio Rivera) staying home to care for her sick mother who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She and her cousin Boli (Resa) discover an old recording of mariachi music and the song briefly awakens her mother’s former self. But when Lucha tells his father – he makes his living as a mariachi musician – he explodes with rage and breaks the record.
Lucha then decides to form his own mariachi group and begins putting it together. The problem is that no one, including her father, really thinks about the possibility that women could also play mariachi music.
The play is by prolific playwright José Cruz González and directed by KJ Sanchez (Quixote Nuevo, What-A-Christmas!) with whom Resa has previously worked in Houston and Arizona. The 14-person cast began rehearsals in August, Resa says. “My character is Hortensia Pérez; her name is Boli. Boli’s journey, this whole series, is also about female empowerment. It’s really about having courage and courage in the face of a lot of no’s.”
Boli has two icons that inspire him, Resa says. American labor leader and civil rights activist Delores Huerta and journalist and sociopolitical activist Gloria Steinem. “My character idolizes these people. That’s where I get this energy from, that being a woman doesn’t mean you can’t do things.”
Before becoming a full-time actress, Resa worked in the education department of the Alley Theater. “I used to do pre- and post-show workshops for the Alzheimer’s Association of Houston. I remember those discussions with those groups and I remember seeing the disease progress. I remember meeting these groups that spanned the spectrum of this disease. When someone is suffering from Alzheimer’s or memory loss, it’s important to keep them socially engaged and keep them connected.”
“It’s just a hard thing to go through with a family member and everyone who has to do it, I think they have the biggest hearts in the world. And we see it on stage. The show has moments that are all just rock. you a little.”
Resa even made the special decision to fly to California to see another production of the play, she says, to gain inspiration from the show. “Just to use this experience as a little nugget of inspiration.”
The show, first presented in 2018, was originally intended as a one-act, but the show continued to evolve and the Alley version will be two acts, just like the Pacific Conservatory Theater version, says Resa. The Alley places it in 1974.
As for how some people complain about mariachi music being too loud or intrusive when eating out — there’s even a line in the show that references this — Resa points out that it’s about ‘a really broad genre. “Mariachi music is a tradition, it’s a family, it’s a community.” Mariachi music is used a lot for celebrations, whether of life or death, she said.
“The whole theme of the show is how music is memory and how music can connect us. It’s such a touching, so thought-provoking and so funny show.”
The opening night is
September 27 October 3 with performances through October 22 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and 7 p.m. Sunday at the Alley Theater, 615 Texas. For more information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.com. $26 to $81.