The Zoot Suit Riot


Santa Ana College Theatre Department stages Luis Valdez’s play chronicling ethnic tensions in the L.A. barrios of the 1940s where Sleepy Lagoon murder trial stirs racial tensions.

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  • 1942: Sleepy Lagoon murder trial stirs racial tensions in L.A.
  • 1942: Aug. 2, Jose Diaz is found dead on Williams Ranch. Hank Leyva and 20 others charged in Diaz’s murder.
  • 1942: Judge sentences 12 Mexican-American young men to prision at San Quentin, ranging from five years to life.
  • 1943: Four days before the riots, conflicts began between Mexicans and military personnel. Women weren’t exempt from soldiers’ tyrades.
  • COURT: In trial, the Zoot Suiters were deprived of haircuts and clean clothes.
  • 600: Number of Latinos rounded up by police for questioning during the Zoot Suit Riots.
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Sexual tension and hyper violence reflect troubled times.
 – by Marissa Adams (el Don Staff Writer)

The cast of Zoot Suit takes the audience back to the socially turbulent 1940s with an energetic and moving performance. The show, which runs through March 18, is laced with sexuality, injected with violence and sprinkled with musical interludes, making it an exciting and unpredictable experience.

A minimalist, expertly-designed set serves as the perfect backdrop throughout the play, without distracting from the clever, fast paced dialogue or the colorful and meticulous, period themed costumes.

The actors commit to their scenes with such fearless bravado that the physical conflicts sometimes teeter between premeditated scuffles and unintentional contact between bodies. They leap and lunge at each other with abandon, not feigning interactions.

Lead character Henry Reyna, played by sophomore theater major Danny Gonzalez, fulfills his role so well it would be unjust to call his performance an “act.” His portrayal of the troubled Latino is seamless and believable, exhibiting a clear connection to his character.

Santa Ana College alumnus Joel Mijares stands out as the vibrant leader El Pachuco. Playing the alter ego of Henry Reyna, Mijares commands attention with his smooth, relaxed demeanor. The audience seemed charmed with his fluidity on stage while he held their attention with a coercive, booming voice that melted into a sexy, persuasive tone. Charisma pours from the handsome actor in a performance brimming with allure and intrigue.

Megan King also stands out in the role of the Press, hammering the audience with cold, unyielding news and passionate rants. She performs as a stoic, confident character with a powerful, sassy attitude.

The well-rehearsed cast appears comfortable on stage, giving the show a consistent flow. There are a handful of awkward scene transitions that the actors make up for with exuberance and a passion to perform.

The theater department met high expectations and maneuvers through a risky, but extremely powerful and relevant show with ease.

Chris Cannon
 – by Saeeda Hasan (el Don Staff Writer)

Portrait of Director Chris Cannon smiling wearing blue jacket.History tends to be forgotten — but occasionally we are reminded of it. On the surface, Zoot Suit is a glorious stage production with all the standard trimmings: lighting, props, music and talented actors. Beneath this topical surface, lies a history lesson in 1940’s Los Angeles Mexican-American history. American history some of us may not know.

This story of people, whose basic legal rights were denied, is not given the attention it deserves by historians said Chris Cannon, assistant professor of acting and directing at Santa Ana College.

History is inevitably written with bias and an agenda. As a result, stories about those with less power are often ignored.

Cannon hopes that through the spectacle of a stage production, the audiences and the performers alike will gain a deeper understanding of a neglected chapter of our shared, collective past.

“This is American history,” said Cannon.

Cannon selected Zoot Suit to produce socially conscious and uplifting theater, or as he says “to put something on stage that smacks of real life.”

In addition to his role as director, Cannon collaborated with Gabriel Shweiri, SAC professor of marketing, management and international business, and Judy Iannaccone, public relations director to form an aggressive marketing strategy. Combining both a grass-roots approach of visiting local venues, as well as a digital approach of using social media, word got out. The production sold out its opening night.

Cannon’s vision has infused the ‘real lives’ of the people participating, both on stage and in the audience. “This play has made me want to learn more about my culture,” says Zoot Suit actor Ivonne Ortega, who plays Elena Torres.

With the SAC production of Zoot Suit, Cannon has helped us to reconnect with our forgotten history.

The cast members receive a ‘40s inspired makeover, including victory roll hair styles, pin-up girl make-up and bright wardrobes
 – by Arilia Winn (el Don Staff Writer)

Theatergoers often do not realize how much work happens before the show, especially behind the velvet curtains.

When putting together Zoot Suit, the costume designer as well as the make-up artist had to research history for inspiration.

“We have a five week build … I’m the first person that has to have everything done,” said Costume Director Donna Dickens.

Renting suits from El Pachuco in Fullerton, ordering from catalogs, sewing tightly-fitted dresses, borrowing other Pachuco-styled clothes from the community and dressing and fitting a cast of 41 people was a challenge.

Finger waves, victory rolls, and wavy curls were among the time-consuming hairstyles chosen by Director of Hair and Make-up Robert Rios. Style Me Vintage by Belinda Hay gave him an insight as to what these hairstyles looked like and how they should be executed.

Theater goes on beyond the lights, the audience and the actors. The right accents of color, the variety of silhouettes, and the structure of hair are what separate a good production from a mediocre one.

Meet the man behind the Zoot Suit
 – by Shavod Culberson (el Don Style Editor)

Danny Gonzalez portrait as Henry with his hair combed back and wearing blue jacket and tie with with white shirt and gold chain with cross pendant.Modest and humble, the 26-year-old leading man shuffles around the dressing room preparing for his first big production. Seemingly calm, he embraces his anxious cast members, as they wait for curtains to rise.

Sophomore theater major Danny Gonzalez landed the starring role for Zoot Suit by accident. “I was going to try out for the Press role,” said Gonzalez. Press is the antagonist.

With encouragement from his peers, however, he read for the part of Henry Reyna. He got the role.

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“He knows how to bring it,” said Justin Powell, who plays Henry Reyna’s lawyer.

Like his character, Gonzalez considers himself passionate and emotional. He also enjoys writing poetry and music, outside of his love for acting. After transferring and completing his education, he hopes to jump into acting and eventually give back to aspiring actors by teaching.

“He gives good acting tips and he’s very nice,” said Ivonne Ortega, who plays Elena.

“I want to do as many shows as I can for as long as I can,” said Gonzalez.

Zoot Suit has been good for more than just entertainment. Fellow actor Dominick Gallardo, who plays Smiley, noted how this show has built up their friendship on and off the stage.

Developing friendships between the cast and Gonzalez is the beginning of the benefits reaped from this show. He learned about historic events related to his ancestry and gained the experience of being in a big production.

Get to know the actors and the roles they portray:
 – by Shavod Culberson (el Don Style Editor)

Character portrayed: Alice Bloomfield

“Alice is the one that is tirelessly working for the underdog. She just wants to see justice for all.”

Alice Bloomfield, the strong-willed activist that fights for the Chicano youth of the 38th street gang, is played by Priscilla Amezola.

Amezola has experience in local theater and plans to get her theater arts degree. Though she began her stage career behind the scenes, she longed for the spotlight.

“I was sick of being backstage, I really wanted to be on stage,” Amezola said.

After extensive research, Amezola found that many of her own morals parallel with those of Alice, such as her desire to help others when nobody else is brave enough.

“I know what it’s like to be seen as an outsider, but sometimes that’s what you have to do,” she said. “It makes you a stronger person.”

After graduating, Amezola hopes to make it as a professional actress.

“I know the money is in TV and film, but theater is really my passion,” she said with the confidence of a true performer.


Character portrayed: Della Barrios

Zoot Suit has a special meaning for Kelly Caballero, whose grandmother was a Pachuca just like the character she plays.

A freshman at Santa Ana College, Caballero plays Della Barrios, the quite sweetheart of lead character Henry Reyna (Danny Gonzalez).

The 20-year-old theater major is excited to play a lead in her first large-scale performance at SAC.

Caballero enjoys playing the innocent Pachuca who confronts young love and glaring social injustice. As a young Chicana, Caballero related to Della.

“I feel like I’ve been through the things that she goes through in the play, and it’s fun to just bring it to life.”

With cultural connection to the show and a love for the 1940s, Caballero feels like the play was made just for her.

Character portrayed: El Pachuco

The Zoot Suit journey has proven to be both an enjoyable and educational one for alumnnus Joel Mijares. He graduated with his degree theatre degree and received his degree in liberal arts after transferring to the University of Southern California.

Juggling a full-time work schedule as a bar manager in Hermosa Beach with his personal life, Mijares returns to the stage he last performed on six years ago.

Mijares was recommended to director Chris Cannon by set designer Sean Small, who remembered his outstanding performance in the 2006 SAC rendition of Grapes of Wrath.

A little reluctant due to time constraints, Mijares met with Cannon and read for the part. He was instantly drawn to the production and the meaning and relevance of its historic period.

“It’s a hard thing being an actor,” Mijares said.

As El Pachuco, Henry Reyna’s alter ego, Mijares brings comedic relief to the play with precision. As an actor, Mijares said he related to Pachuco’s defiant attitude as well as his stand-up ways.


Character portrayed: Smiley Torres

One part of the family trio debuting in Zoot Suit, the 20-year-old theater major jokes with fellow cast members backstage, creating a calming atmosphere.

Dominick Gallardo, who plays Smiley, co-stars with brother Chris (gang member Joey) and sister Linda (Henry’s sister Lupe) in their first big production at Santa Ana College.

Unlike his character, Gallardo is the jokester of the bunch. In glimpses of him off stage his smile is ever-present.

“It’s easy for me to play a comedic character. I’m always joking around,” he said.

Excelling at comedic roles, Gallardo was challenged in Zoot Suit when he had to step outside his norm and portray a serious, no-nonsense gang member ⎯ a challenge met and conquered.

Gallardo’s free time is filled with anything relating to the arts. Not only does he crave theater and acting, he also draws, writes poetry and plays.

In the future, the sophomore actor hopes to transfer to a university and pursue a career in acting. For Gallardo, this is only the beginning.

“He’s super talented and great to work with,” said co-star Megan King.

Character portrayed: Press

The 20-year-old aspiring actress creates a stir on stage for Zoot Suit in her role as Press.

Sophomore Megan King was initially interested in the role of Henry’s girlfriend, Della. Because of minor details like not resembling her Mexican heritage, however, she was advised by director Chris Cannon to audition for Alice and cast as Cub Reporter. After discovering that female lawyers were present in the ‘40s, King was re-cast as Press, a fictional character that doubles as a lawyer.

“It kind of fell in my lap and ended up being really awesome,” she said.

Though King shares her character’s passion, she doesn’t agree with the Press’s beliefs. Contrary to that role, King is sociable and friendly.

Off stage King keeps busy with music and anything theatre-related. She also enjoys yoga, an unexpected interest she discovered in her freshman year of college during the warm up routine for an acting class.

In the future, King hopes to transfer to New York’s Hunter College in an effort to pursue a theater career.


Video by Marco Mejia

Zoot Suit Final Performance
Zoot Suit: Preview

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