On the surface, "Hippie Mexicana" sounds promising.
The comedy-drama, which Borderlands Theater opened last weekend, follows the lives of the close-knit Rios family, which lives on a small farm near downtown Phoenix during the early 1970s and 1990s.
Penned by playwright Evangeline Ordaz and directed by her husband, Armando Molina, the story is told through the character of the youngest family member, Anita Moran (Marissa Garcia), who gives us a glimpse of her childhood during the age of Aquarius.
That premise itself sounds great — and with a title like "Hippie Mexicana," one expects a lot of laughs, plenty of witty repartee sprinkled with a few political and intellectual barbs to capture the audience.
What's delivered instead is a slow-paced production that drifts into a hazy and melodramatic story line that never quite emerges.
It starts in 1992 with Anita, a lawyer, trying to figure out how to pay medical expenses for her ailing grandmother.
The family decides to sell the grandmother's home, and while preparing for the sale, Anita finds a film reel that transports the audience back to 1972.
We're thrown into the day-to-day dynamics of the Rios family, a household where a 5-year-old Anita lives with her recently widowed grandmother, her mom and her teenage and 20-something aunt and uncles, who are dealing with the recent death of their father.
Though the characters mention the death, there doesn't seem to be any form of grieving about the passing of this character.
There's no sadness, anger or relief, and that lack of emotion seems odd in a family whose members, on the surface, seem to be intimately linked to one another through their relationships.
The story, instead, centers around the discovery of ancient Hohokam artifacts uncovered in the Rioses' yard, which sets off a series of events that purports to change the family forever.
This event, however, doesn't work as the catalyst for the shift in the family's dynamics — the artifacts are found and talked about, but there are other plot twists that could offer deeper exploration of the play's story line.
The acting — which included brief bursts of good comedic timing and energy — was tepid at the Saturday performance.
And a technical problem with a video in the last act of the play marred the ending of the production.
There were bright spots — talented Alida Gunn, who plays 19- and 39-year-old Ana Rios, a flower child who eventually ends up working a dead-end job, delivered a particularly striking performance.
Comedic relief came from actor Brandon Kosters, who, as a hippie who bums around the country, delivered some of the best scenes in the play.
There should be enough material here to explore the other characters' eccentricities and motivations, but the play jumbles everyone together, throwing away good opportunities for in-depth analysis.
When a character gets drafted into the military, the play seems to gloss over this point.
It's also a bit odd when a widow tries to nab a new man during the first few months after her husband's death. This behavior isn't quite explained and could have been another good turning point in the story.
An unusual choice in the play also deals with the use of puppets — a crippled cat named Chueca and the 5-year-old Anita.
This attempt — used perhaps as a way to show the audience how the adult Anita might look back at her childhood — is unsettling and distracts from the story.
There are a few smart lines revolving around the family's lineage, with references to their New Mexico roots and Spanish heritage.
But this is in addition to a silly scene in which the characters also play homage to their Mescalero Apache background through an uncomfortable "Native dance" that brings few laughs.
Though Borderlands should be applauded for its smart choices of themes, ideas and the issues they bring to the stage, this show doesn't quite deliver the laughs or brevity to sustain an audience.
• Presented by: Borderlands Theater.
• Playwright: Evangeline Ordaz.
• Director: Armando Molina.
• When: 7:30 p.m. today, Saturday, Thursday-April 21; 2 p.m. Sunday and April 22.
• Where: Beowulf Alley Theatre, 11 S. Sixth Ave.
• Tickets: $16.75, with discounts available.
• Cast includes: Marissa Garcia, David Felix, Norma Medina, Alida Gunn, Kerem Beygo, James Workman, Tim Janes, Brandon Kosters and Eva Tessler.
• Running time: 2 hours, with one intermission.
• Information: 882-7406 or www.borderlandstheater.org