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Zoot Suit’ Returns To SD Rep Stage

Above: Dance scene during "Zoot Suit" at the San Diego Repertory Theater.

Aired 7/25/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Lakin Valdez, actor in “Zoot Suit.”

Sam Woodhouse, artistic director of San Diego Repertory Theatre.


Actor Lakin Valdez as Henry Reyna and actress Maya Malan-Gonzalez as Della Ba...
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Above: Actor Lakin Valdez as Henry Reyna and actress Maya Malan-Gonzalez as Della Barrios in "Zoot Suit" at the San Diego Rep.

Raul Cardona as El Pachuco in
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Above: Raul Cardona as El Pachuco in "Zoot Suit" at the San Diego Rep.

In the 1960s, playwright Luis Valdez founded El Teatro Campesino, a theater company run by, and for, farm workers. But it wasn't until the late '70s when Valdez—now heralded as the father of Chicano theater—took the theater world by storm with his 1978 masterpiece "Zoot Suit."

"Zoot Suit" may be a fictional tale but it's based on historical events: the 1942 Sleepy Lagoon murder trial, which wrongfully charged a group of Chicano youths with a murder that they did not commit, and the ensuing Zoot Suit Riots that took place in Los Angeles. (The play's title refers to the high-waisted, wide-legged/pegged trousers and long coat, popularized by male Chicano and African-American youths during the 1940s.)

The play itself quickly made history, becoming the first Chicano play on Broadway. The now classic work is getting a fresh staging at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, which first staged the production in 1997.

And although it was written over 30 years ago and discusses events from 70 years ago, the play's themes of racial tensions, social injustices and media hysteria are still relevant today.

Starring Lakin Valdez (a son of Luis Valdez) and directed by Kirsten Brandt (former executive artistic director of Sledgehammer Theatre), the "play with music" features a cast of 33 actors/singers/dancers and a live orchestra playing Latin jazz form the 1940s.

KPBS Midday Edition speaks with actor Lakin Valdez and SD Rep Artistic Director Sam Woodhouse about this modern classic and how it still resonates with today's audiences after all these years.

Zoot Suit” runs now through August 12 at the San Diego Repertory’s Lyceum Theater in downtown San Diego.

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