Diverse Decree

Seven Guitars, one Tortilla, two approaches to ethnic theater

Act One is all talk--two hours of gorgeous, meandering meditation that introduces the characters and during which next to nothing happens. It goes nowhere, but is so handsomely written that it hardly matters. In Act Two, the story takes off, revealing Wilson's themes of salvation and obsession, the conflict between men and women, and the black man's burden.

Despite its beauty and the hopefulness and pluck of the characters, this is not a happy play. Wilson creates a sense of loss and bewilderment from scene one, and there's no real resolution: At curtain, none of the principals knows who killed our hero. Everything is tinged with irony: Floyd has a hit record but no instrument to perform music with; his financial success hinges on his ability to get to Chicago, but he cannot seem to get there. Even the play's era evokes irony: African-American men returning home from the sacrifices of World War II discover that they are still treated as second-class citizens.

Despite Wilson's offstage opinion that a multicultural society isn't worth the effort in the end, his writing tells us something different. In a critical scene, Floyd has a speech about how music doesn't matter unless it gets out to as many people as possible. "The people got to hear it and want to buy it," Floyd says. "That's what makes you good."

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In the end, the greatest irony is not in Wilson's hugely ironic play, but in that a silly little comedy like Santiero's carries a more accessible message. Wilson will continue to make beautiful, Broadway-produced art, but Santiero, whose work is formulaic and cute, will bridge bigger cultural gaps by allowing his audience access to his people and then keeping his mouth shut once the connection is made.

Our Lady of the Tortilla continues through Sunday, May 25, at Phoenix Theatre, 100 East McDowell. For more details, see Theater listing in Thrills.

Arizona Theatre Company's production of Seven Guitars continues through Sunday, May 25, in Center Stage at Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe. For more details, see Calendar.

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