In Cutting Ball Theater’s “Superheroes,” director Sean San Jose illuminates the racial injustices within the drug cultures of Los Angeles and Oakland, California. Throughout the play, he and the cast of “Superheroes” carry an impeccable script while delivering an enthrallingly powerful production.
“Superheroes” opens with a journalist, Aparecida (Delina Patrice Brooks), who is investigating a controversial story involving drug trafficking. Through one telephone call, the reporter receives a tip too great to overlook — yet too dangerous to pursue.
The script is very loosely based on the life of journalist Gary Webb, who allegedly committed suicide long after he released information claiming that the CIA had involvement with drug cartels in Nicaragua. The CIA denied any involvement with the drug trafficking into the United States, and Webb’s alleged suicide ended with two mystifying bullet wounds to the head.
San Jose’s brilliant script exposes injustices facing black and brown communities across the United States through monologues that reveal hardships and ache. Aparecida stands almost ghostlike as she listens to the previously untold stories of those involved in the drug trafficking ring.
The narrative of “Superheroes” focuses on three perpetrators and two drug consumers, all of whom perfectly guide the audience through weighty drug politics. Drug dealer Free (Myers Clark) partners up with Nico (Ricky Saenz) to create a marketing plan for their loads of newly attained cocaine by deciding to sell it to the vulnerable churches of their neighborhoods. Bayuncoso (Juan Amador) leads the pack of drug dealers with his ability to distribute the goods.
Nico represents the larger Latino community of Oakland and Los Angeles. His mostly Spanish monologues may be difficult for non-Spanish speakers to identify with, but they depict the struggle that most of these communities have with daily American living. This may come as a burden for some audiences, but it only adds to the very intentional and realistic workings of “Superheroes.” The play manages to draw in viewers with different perspectives, but it always makes them feel like outsiders looking in.
The reverend (Donald E. Lacy Jr.) represents the people at large. His character is the moral compass of the story, and he points his finger at the community itself for being an active participant in the drug ring. Meanwhile, consumer Magnolia (Britney Frazier), who made the phone call to the journalist in the beginning of the play, stuns and haunts as a cocaine addict subject to her addiction.
By focusing on the characters involved in the drug trafficking, San Jose delivers a riveting story of the insiders’ vulnerability. He forces the audience to really look at the forgotten subjects within these cities and prompts questions regarding justice along class and race lines.
“Superheroes” leads the audience to rethink the common MTV version of crack addicts and sources of crime in these well-known cities. The characters are multidimensional and not tropes or stereotypes. Their stories are harrowing, and it is hard not to be moved by their emotional appeals.
San Jose beautifully tells these stories with a poetic flow present in scenes and within dialogue. It is easy for an audience member to forget his or her immediate reality and be transported to the not-so-distant reality of the victims of ongoing drug wars. “Superheroes” stands as a remarkable production not only because of the entertainment it surely brings but also because of its importance and strong storytelling.
“Superheroes” is playing at Cutting Ball Theater in San Francisco until Dec. 21.
Contact Melanie Jimenez at [email protected].