In the opening scene of Jose Rivéra’s lyrical comedy-drama “Cloud Tectonics,” we learn that Los Angeles is in the midst of its death throes, with earthquakes, a biblical-size flood and the shutdown of LAX airport.
But unexpectedly out of this chaos, love blooms between unemployed airport baggage handler Anibal de la Luna and lost soul Celestina del Sol, a pregnant young woman he rescues from a rainy street corner.
But something’s amiss in the shape-shifting 90-minute play, which opened this weekend at New Village Arts in Carlsbad. Inside Anibal’s home, time stands still and Celestina’s backstory makes no sense. She claims she’s in her mid-50s and has been pregnant for two years. “Time and I,” she explains to the bewildered Anibal, “don’t hang out together.”
Rivera infused his play — which made its West Coast premiere at La Jolla Playhouse in 1995 — with elements of magical realism, science fiction and mythology. It’s a whimsical and sexy take on how love transcends time.
While the relationship that grows between Anibal and Celestina seems sweetly conventional, keep in mind that these characters are named for the moon, sun and stars. Celestina is more goddess than girl, a fertile mother nature who’s destined to wipe clean the sins of the old city and give birth to Nuevo L.A. by the story’s end.
To say any more about “Cloud Tectonics” would spoil the elliptical surprise at its bittersweet end. The play’s title refers to the scientific mystery of how clouds are shaped and reformed, just as mystery clouds the eternal love between Anibal and Celestina.
In the hands of first-time director Herbert Siguenza, who’s better known for his decades of work as an actor and playwright, the play slips and circles magically through time and space with the help of Spanish poetry, music and dancing.
Nadia Guevara, New Village’s new associate artistic director, stars as Celestina. She’s gentle-natured but impulsive and she’s teasing and earthy in her sensuality.
Jose Balistrieri shows his versatility as Anibal, a character who ages from a virile young man in his late 20s to a wizened and dementia-touched senior in his 70s. Javier Guerrero co-stars as Anibal’s war-weary soldier brother, Nelson. He plays the character with a mix of rough-house aggression and heartbroken loneliness.
The show’s gritty, other-worldly design adds much to the mystical feel of the production. Christopher Scott Murillo’s scenic design, hauntingly illuminated by lighting designer Paul Canaletti Jr., is cramped with oversize water jugs, corrugated panels, umbrellas, plastic sheeting and an elevated bed. Mark Spiro composed the score and sound, which envelops the story in raindrops and probing bass notes. Carmen Amon’s costumes have a touch of the “Mad Max” fantastic. And Blake McCarty’s projections conjure end-of-the-world catastrophes.
“Cloud Tectonics” is the first full-length production in New Village’s Teatro Pueblo Nuevo initiative, a bilingual and bicultural outreach program.
As a tie-in to “Cloud Tectonics,” Siguenza is hosting a retrospective of his artwork in the adjacent Foundry gallery. The art school graduate is a very good painter and printmaker, and judging by this month’s debut at New Village, he’s going to be a very good director as well.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 25.
Where: New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State St., Carlsbad
Tickets: $33-$36 (the play has strong language and mature themes)
Phone: (760) 433-3245