By: Miguel Cid∞
Playwright Paul S. Flores is to Latinos as Martin Scorsese is to Italians. Placas: The Most Dangerous Tattoo was a powerhouse of a play headed by Ric Salinas of Culture Clash. Salinas voiced to the audience after the play what he thought and what many engaged minds might think regarding the subject when he was first approached with the project, “Great, another gang play about Latinos.” But after he read the script, the self-proclaimed Chicano, hailing from El Salvador who grew up in San Francisco, went all in—and what came out was no Mi Vida Loca—the characters had real life portraying depth. The play, focusing on specific happenings made the experience universal, such as a Greek tragedy—it could have been about an Asian family, Black family—anyone. The play followed the main character Fausto Carbajal aka Placas through his strive to be a better role model for his family and son in a rival gang, after spending time in prison and leaving his own past gang life. The character, like Salinas, immigrated from El Salvador to the U.S.—and like many Salvadorans who took the journey, was faced with discrimination and gang violence.
As I watched the dynamic cast, I laughed and reeled back in my seat, and multiple times told the person sitting beside me, “This is too real.” The language and themes captured by Flores reminded me of growing up in northern California and what I was seeing being born in ’84—at one point in the play the portrayal of real life was so spot on I even began to feel anxious.
The reason that Placas: The Most Dangerous Tattoo is a hit and has traveled through 13 cities and has many more on schedule, is the extensive research put into the play. There were over one hundred interviews conducted to fill out the perspective of the characters, some of the actors grew up in similar environments, and a large portion of the story was composed of real life events from a man who was the real life “Placas” Fausto Carbajal.
The play is an instant master piece by playwright Paul S. Flores, but there is a little bit of magic from each of the actors and director Michael John Garcés . The actors deserve as much credit as anyone involved in the production of the piece and consist of, besides Salinas, Caro Zeller, Xavi Moreno, Luis “Xago” Juárez , Sarita Ocón, Fidel Gomez, and Edgar Barboza.
The play will be in San Diego April 23-25 and Long Beach April 30-May 2.