The Latino Theater Company's production sheds light on the psychological impact of war through the lens of a veteran suffering from PTSD.
By Ava Rosate, Staff Writer
Performed by Los Angeles City College theater students and written by the Latino Theater Company, “Melancholia” focuses on the devastating psychological impact of war from the standpoint of Mario, a combat fatigued military veteran from East Los Angeles.
The red and white outdoor tent in the Student Union Plaza where the production is held could easily be mistaken for a circus show, with string lights hanging from the ceiling and swing sets on either side of the stage. The intimate tent was transformed into the corrupted mind of the veteran as soon as the show began. Each manic episode, song and flashback were enhanced with dramatic strobe lights, illuminating the deterioration of Mario’s mental health.
“You'll see the scenery looks like a circus and it's in the thrust — it's supposed to be very stylized,” said Johnny Garofalo, the production designer for the show. “And the point of that design is it's exactly contrary to what the actual story is, because the story is real. It's a vet, and it's about depression and how vets are treated.”
The play begins with a pair of clowns, Tar (Arnol Zepeda) and Skittles (Valerie Vega) clad in baroque makeup bickering over a Hamlet quote. The fools act as storytellers for the play, guiding the audience through key points in Mario’s life, from the point of his decision to join the military to some time after his homecoming. The jesters kept the play on a light note and were a refreshing element to the devastating theme.
The role of Mario is shared by three actors: Jared Walters, Jorge Berrios and Isaiah Noriega. The constant switching of the characters could be unclear and confusing for first time viewers but adds depth to Mario.
We first learn of the soldier's PTSD during his homecoming, which happened to fall on New Years Eve. During the firework celebration at midnight, Mario was sent into a state of panic, imagining the fireworks as flying bullets. The audience later finds out the manic episode was a figment of his imagination, setting the precedent for surrealist interruptions to the narrative.
The play lightly touched on corruption in war such as Abu Ghraib, human violation and war-crimes conducted by the CIA and American Army in 2003 in Iraq, where Iraqi’s were physically tortured, sexually violated and raped.
The actors’ vocal talents were showcased during three musical numbers. The bone-chilling ballad, “La Llorona”, was beautifully sung between La Muerte (Norene Flowers), piano accompanist Melanie Hatzenbuhler and a weeping woman played by Rebecca Jauregui.
Mario’s mental health declines throughout the production — his alcohol consumption and violent lash outbursts become normalized. The flashbacks he endures are a constant reminder of the horror he lived through during his time in the Marines.
Mario’s friends, family and girlfriend bore the brunt of his internal fight. They knew the person he was before he was deployed, happy, curious and free-spirited. After his return, he is noticeably struggling to reconnect to the world he once knew.
“This is shoving empathy in your face,” said Garofalo. “If you can watch the show and not feel empathy, well you weren't watching the show.”