Playwright W. Fran Astorga’s Exhaustion Arroyo: Dancin’ Trees in the Ravine is a trip — in both senses of the word. Running through May 21 at San Francisco’s Cutting Ball Theater, the play was inspired by an early pandemic experience in the Santa Cruz mountains.
“I was with some really creative friends… and we went into the woods and did shrooms. And that experience really stuck with me,” says Astorga, who also co-directs.
In the intimate 48-seat, circular theater made to look like a forest, it is fictional characters Taki, Chío and Apé, co-workers at a pizza place, who go on the psychedelic adventure. Underpinning the sometimes goofy physical comedy, though, is a meditation on inequality, the exploitation of essential workers and the importance of community care — drawn from Astorga’s own experience as an essential worker.
Performed in Spanglish, Astorga is intentional and unapologetic in rejecting the white, heteronormative gaze, which they’d had to cater to in past experiences working in theater.
“I come from a community in Stanislaus County [and] we transition between Spanish and English very fluently,” Astorga says. “And that’s what’s in the show: this dialect of the Central Valley that, in English, is slang from the Bay and slang from Southern California. And in Spanish, it’s like Spanglish slang, but also slang from specific parts of Mexico. So it’s like a really cool cultural blend.”
Exhaustion Arroyo also features the professional theater debut of actor and Santa Rosa native Patricio Becerril, who plays Apé. Becerril, who studied theater at Santa Rosa Junior College before finishing his degree at UC San Diego, says the play is unlike anything he’s done.