Bruno Bichir — who, along with his brothers, Odiseo and Demián, belongs to one of the most internationally renowned acting families from Mexico — recalls a time on a movie set when a starlet looked down upon him and his fellow Latin American actors on set. “She treated us like lovely savages who don’t have education,” he said. “But it’s the whole opposite, and I was furious, because she thought it was that simple. My history — that she didn’t know at the time — was more complex.”
It’s relegations like these that fuel the comedy of Bruno and Odiseo’s production of eXtras, a loving send-up of Hollywood and all its hierarchies playing at the Rubicon Theatre through May 1 in association with Foro Shakespeare, with a Spanish-language version on April 19 and May 1. The play, written by Sabina Berman, is a loose adaptation of Marie Jones’s Olivier Award–winning script Stones in His Pockets. Directed by Bruno and acted out entirely by both him and Odiseo — with more than 15 characters played between them — eXtras tells the tale of what happens when a Hollywood production set visits a California/Mexico border town for a film shoot and consequently disrupts the entire community.
The Brothers Bichir, then with Demián, had first performed the play in Mexico more than 13 years ago, and the Rubicon recently reached out to them about staging it in Ventura. It will be the Bichirs’ U.S. stage debut. Opening the evening will be 17-year-old phenom Maya Burns, the young, bilingual Mexican-by-way-of-California composer who will also add transitional and background music for the play.
eXtras, said Bruno, highlights immigration issues in its cultural critiques, with its main characters being two Mexican extras who hope, one day, to fulfill the American dream of being in the spotlight. “In a lot of the movies that Hollywood does about Latin America, they don’t have a lot of respect for mixing cultures. That’s why you have in an Indiana Jones movie a beautiful stone from the Aztecs while Indiana Jones is in Peru, and they don’t care,” Bruno said. “We’re always consuming that history, and as they say, the history is written by the winner always. And we Mexican people and those two immigrants are the losers in the beginning of the story. They want to fit into this American dream of becoming stars, but they are nothing but extras in a movie about their Mexican history.”
Bruno said the play lambasts, in a loving way, the hierarchies that Hollywood projects onto the world, in which some people are stars, and others villains — or props. “At the bottom is the extra, and nobody cares if he rests or if he’s out in the sun or if he’s thirsty,” he said. The play also pokes fun at Hollywood’s usual typecasting, particularly because two Mexican actors will be playing all the parts. “We as Mexicans, we’ve been hired for a movie as the stupid [person] or the robber or the drug addict or the terrorist … we’re never, like, the hero.”
But the play, Odiseo insisted, is not vengeful or mean-spirited. Rather, it is a compassionate kind of comedy, one that recognizes shared humanity in all cultures and all roles big and small. “The media tell us about a world that is changing furiously, that is even more violent than we thought we would face,” he said. He noted Berman’s “tender and comprehensive and profound” characterizations and said the play treats all therein with respectfully good humor. “This is the kind of work that you really enjoy because … it is a unique moment to communicate with an audience and establish a celebration of life together as a community, no matter the culture of everyone in the audience, no matter the culture of the ones that are there on the stage.”
eXtras runs at the Rubicon Theatre (1006 E. Main St., Ventura) through May 1. For tickets and more information, call (805) 667-2900 or visit rubicontheatre.org.