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Placas: The Most Dangerous Tatoo (Casa 0101)

Sometimes propaganda pieces of theatre can be stirring and uplifting for all the right reasons. Placas: The Most Dangerous Tattoo” is one of these plays, dealing as it does with young Latinos: native-born, immigrants themselves, or the children of immigrants; all-too-often from poorer circumstances, leading some of them into gangs for protection and/or a concept of family, breaking laws they don’t see as contributing to their well-being anyway, selling and/or taking drugs, killing each other in ridiculous wars over neighborhoods they don’t own, and recruiting younger boys and girls into despotic lives of emptiness.

Plays such as “Placas” (a term for gang tattoos), by Paul S. Flores, certainly do lead the way for we to understand their plight as he doesn’t pontificate his messages, but let’s us discover them mostly by ourselves within the confines of his plot.

Fausto Carbajal (the always-present Ricardo Salinas) has just been released from prison after nine years. He returns to his family’s section of San Francisco, where his son, Edgar (Xavi Moreno), now 17, is ready to drop out of high school and settle into a new “family,” the local Salvadorian gang, “El Norte.” 

Fausto originally was from El Salvador, where his youngest brother was murdered during the horrific civil war. His other brother, a fiery Evangelist preacher, Nelson (Eric Aviles, an amazing actor), is full of fury at his “wayward” brother, but takes care of their mother (Sarita Ocón). And Edgar’s mother, Fausto’s ex-wife, Claudia (Zilah Mendoza, a gifted actor) is now mother to another man’s daughter, also imprisoned.

With corrupt cops (Aviles again), the embittered, violent sister to the leader of the anti-drug counselor (both played by the other amazing actor here, Ocón), and various other gangsters, Flores’ play truly takes off in wondrous ways.

Let us thank director Fidel Gomez for having such tight control over the proceedings. He has brought out the best in these characters, facilitating the story-telling. This two-week stop at Casa 0101 in Boyle Heights, a comfortable theatre, will end this particular tour (Richmond, Stockton, Santa Ana were previous stops), fuelled by a grant from The California Endowment for Healthy Communities. This production that deserves a longer life.

Thanks, too, for the portable set design of Tanya Orellana, on which Yee Eun Nam’s projection design were flashed, giving us place and time and the emotional feel of these peoples, flushed from their homeland by physical violence and too-often betrayed by leaders of their adopted country. It’s an enlightening evening of theatre, well-produced, -directed and -acted. I am so glad I saw it.

‘Placas” plays only through February 28th at Casa 0101, 2102 East 1st Street, Boyle Heights, 90033. Tickets:  323.263.7684 or at