In Review

Valley of the Heart

5 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars - 'Outstanding - Starkie!'
San Jose Stage Company
Written and directed by Luis Valdez
Review by Cy Ashley Webb

Luiz Valdez’s new play Valley of the Heart enjoyed a World Premiere at the San Jose Stage Company. Cy Ashley Webb has the review.

The texts to friends went out as soon as I got home. “Just saw the most astonishing play,” I wrote. This review feels like a continuation of those conversations.

Playwright, director, and founder of El Teatro Campesino, Luis Valdez calls Valley of the Heart a memory play.

Part of that memory lies under our parking lots and freeways, reduced  to the Libby’s Fruit Cocktail can, soaring on the old Libby’s water tower, now stuck in the middle of an office park, a mile or so from the “Cherry Orchard Shopping Center,” niggling reminders of what existed here 50 years ago.

As much as Valley of the Heart is about that hazy half-formed memory, it’s also about Luis Valdez, who is writing his personal story.

Like the Montaño family onstage, the Valdez family worked for Japanese farmers, who appear here, as the Yamaguchis. Like Valdez’s family, the Montaños assumed possession of the farm after their Japanese employers were interned during WWII. Their loss of the farm becomes our loss, writ against our disconnection to the land making up Silicon Valley. Thanks to Valdez’ magic, the two losses spin together faster and faster, leaving some in the audience sobbing aloud.

Valley of the Heart is that big: an epic multi-generational story, larger in scope than the Grapes of Wrath, and worth every one of the 180 minutes making up its run time.

The dynamic Lakin Valdez, who recently appeared in Between Riverside and Crazy at ACT, played Benjamin Montaño, who becomes married to the Yamaguchi daughter Teruko, played by Melanie Arii Mah. The story of this couple, separated during the Japanese internment, mirrors that of a friend of Valdez.

Valley of the Heart - Review
Lakin Valdez* (Benjamin Montaño), Christina Chu (Hana Yamaguchi), Melanie Arii Mah* (Thelma “Teruko” Yamaguchi), Rafael Toribio (Kurogo), Anthony Chan (Calvin Sakamoto), and Ryan Takemiya (Joe “Yoshi” Yamaguchi) in the World Premiere of VALLEY OF THE HEART presented in partnership by San Jose Stage Company and El Teatro Campesino.
Valley of the Heart - Cy Ashley Webb
Conversation heats up between Teruko “Thelma” Yamaguchi (Melanie Arii Mah*) and Maruca Montaño (Christy Sandoval) as they contemplate the differences in their cultures while immersed in the Yamaguchi Family’s hot tub.

Randall Nakano plays Yamaguchi patriarch, Ichiro, and Gustavo Mellado appears as the head of the Montaño famly, Cayetano, Both play complex men, embroiled in forces larger than themselves.

Christina Chi appears as Hana, Ichiro’s wife, and Rosa Maria Escalante, as the Montaño matriarch, Paula, both figures of enormous self control and fortitude.

Valley of the Heart (which has already been extended to March 13th, thanks to record-breaking box office) is the first product of a three year partnership between San Jose Stage and El Teatro Campesino. San Jose Stage has also commissioned a new work by Luis Valdez called Adios Mama Carlota – Empress of Mexico that we will hopefully see soon.

Cy Ashley Webb
Cy spent the ‘80’s as a bench scientist, the tech boom doing intellectual property law, and the first decade of the millennium, aspiring to be the world’s oldest grad student at Stanford where she is interested in political martyrdom. Presently, she enjoys writing for Stark Insider and the SF Examiner, hanging out at Palo Alto Children's Theatre, and participating in various political activities. Democracy is not a spectator sport! Cy is a SFBATCC member.