At the conclusion of the performance, Rodriguez is straight forward during the question and answer periods stating that he would be “very happy if his book became extinct.”
The play, “Always Running,” based on the award-winning book ALWAYS RUNNING: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A., has had its successful run extended until Nov. 24, and has enjoyed often sold-out performances at CASA 0101 theater in Boyle Heights.
Prior to the play, the book — first born as a memoir written by San Fernando resident Luis Rodriguez ,who candidly wrote about his involvement in gang life — had been adapted for the stage by Rodriguez himself with the play's director Hector Rodriguez.
Rufino Romero plays Luis Rodriguez in the leading role, with 16 rotating actors playing 32 roles. The play has been produced with Josefina Lopez at CASA 0101, in conjunction with Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore in Sylmar.
“This landmark production is the longest continuously running play in CASA 0101 Theater’s 19-year history,” Lopez said. "The show has been completely sold out since it opened on Aug. 31, 2019, and we couldn’t be happier. It is particularly special, too that Luis Rodríguez has generously made himself available for questions and answers following selected Sunday matinee performances, which have generated invigorating, thought-provoking discussions about the play’s subject matter and source material.”
Much like the book, which is often cited as the most “checked out and stolen book” at libraries, the play has encouraged much discussion.
While the play is set in a San Gabriel Valley barrio in the 1970’s, unfortunately, the topic is as relevant today with gang related crimes on the rise and no end in sight. Gangs have persisted as the most difficult generational cycles to break with a tight grip in disadvantaged communities.
On stage, "Always Running" includes the noble attempts decades ago to end the warfare with gang truces signed by members of rival neighborhoods. The play also gives a brief look into the subsequent complicated tangled webs, misinformation and interference that causes truces to be broken and the senseless shootings, deaths and nightmares to continue.
"Always Running," with a few lines, also makes the audience consider who benefits from the crimes committed by gang members and asks what role the authorities including the police have played in gang violence in poor neighborhoods.
The Power Of The Pen
He's also clear in telling audiences that he isn’t “glorifying” gang life, and he acknowledges both the camaraderie, pain and suffering it brings. While the play, limited by time doesn't convey the many causes for young people to fall between the cracks,
the play speaks loudly about the strength of having a hand up given by a teacher or counselor who takes a dedicated interest in turning a gangmember's [Rodriguez'] life around.
It was a counselor who first encouraged Rodriguez to make a pen his weapon of choice. He read much and met others along his writing path who also offered support.
Rodriguez' pen became so mighty that he would later author several award winning books and was named L.A.'s poet laureate in 2014 by Mayor Garcetti. His literary reputation soared and his lens widened with travels around the world as a speaker and artist.
However, "Always Running" has been the book Rodriguez is most known for as it's been widely read in schools and prisons.
Similarly to his book, the play gives a window of understanding about the pressured life and the allure of belonging to a barrio territory and the "gaps" that gang life fullfills.
It's the unconditional albeit misplaced loyalty that in some cases has contributed to generations of gang members in the same family making it difficult to break the cycle. For Rodriguez, developing his ability to write provided a pathway first toward journalism, followed by his success in the literary arts.
"Always Running" Play Provides Opportunity
The stage production of "Always Running" is the first play for Rodriguez who partnered with the CASA 0101 Theatre with Tia Chucha's Cultural Center in Sylmar which he co-founded with his wife Trini Rodriguez.
Both CASA 0101 and Tia Chucha's are known to provide a venue for artists and the community and this production has successfully provided an opportunity for actors and has reopened a needed discussion for the community to have about gang violence.
It's interesting to note that some of the actors in “Always Running” have never been on stage before, and now they have the experience and credit of being in being in a highly successful play. Some of the actors also shared during the Q & A sessions that the topic has hit very close to home.
“Being in this play has actually given me a greater understanding of why people join gangs,” shared one female cast member, who said her brother had been in a gang and she had resented him. She said that being in the play, she now has more understanding for him.
“Gangs fill in the gaps,” Rodriguez shared with the audience. He candidly talked about his troubled youth and his involvement with gangs, alcohol and drugs which caused his own family to put him out of the house and, with other children in the house to think about, he understood why they did.
That troubled life and pain for his parents came full circle for Rodriguez when his own son, Ramiro, became involved in gangs in Chicago and spent time in prison. He, like his father, has successfully pulled himself out of that life and now they often speak together. "I'm really proud of Ramiro and the work that he's doing now," Rodriguez said.
While it was a counselor that was the touchstone for Rodriguez. For his son, it was actually a police officer who helped him turn his life around allowing him to experience multiple sides of law enforcement.
The play touches on very important issues that include discrimination, police informants and the role the police have played in gang violence. Those issues are all worthy of a more in depth look and additional public exposure.
More plays, discussion with a call to action, education, social services, employment and public policy are needed to eradicate the growth and long arm and the profitable business of gangs.
This stage production of “Always Running,” brings much needed discussion that will hopefully grow and save lives by someday making gangs and "Always Running" extinct.
For more information about available dates to see “Always Running,” call (323) 263-7684, or visit the website at www.casa0101.org