El Ultimo Coconut, a Comic Portrait of the Young Nerd as a Mexican-American
The SunBreak ran into Gerald Alejandro Ford in 2011, and asked him Five Questions, which is when we first heard about El Ultimo Coconut (at Annex Theatre through August 22; tickets: $10), his one-man performance developed as a Cornish senior project. “It was about a Mexican American teen who was socially awkward and addicted to World of Warcraft,” Ford told us.
As part of his “last hurrah in Seattle,” Ford has brought the show back, in an hour-long production designed by Ian Johnston, with sound by Catherine Blake Smith and video by Lonnie Tristan Renteria. It’s not autobiographical, but it feels genuinely rooted in Ford’s childhood Tucson. Ford plays a multitude of characters with uncanny precision in vocal tone and rhythm, gesture, posture–he’s a kind of solo-performer savant.
The narrative arc is a little kitchen-sink drama, a little USA Network. “Coco”–the protagonist’s unfortunate nickname happens to function as a Mexican variant of Oreo–is a gamer with a blog (which allows Ford to blog at the audience, his “minions”) who does not have that much in common with his family, let alone a social circle. Coco is an egotist about his smarts, insecure in his cultural identity (he doesn’t really speak Spanish), and tormented by his seemingly thuggy twin brother, who wishes he’d man up.
His fish-out-of-water antics and double-takes provide many of the laughs, which burble forth throughout, but the howls of laughter come from his mom’s demand, when she has something weighty to say, that Coco sit in his chair. Without going into it, the chair has a way of symbolizing the way moms the world over fight the future in which their children have grown.
Because Ford is so adept at characterization, the performance is strongest when he’s introducing each character, and detailing their interactions in their home. A south-of-the-border strip club scene is also strong, but it feels rushed, and the succeeding events begin to feel more like commentary, or a sort of comic parable. (A wonderful, projected-video fever hallucination plumbs the images of Coco’s soul.)
Most of the faults are likely due to the difficulty of self-directing, and being able to see when a character transition “reads,” or when the audience needs a beat, or a blackout. The strength of the show lies in how packed it is with candid observations of daily life for a Mexican-American family living in Arizona, and the multitude of borders jammed into a single living room.