Visceral and electric, The King of the Desert features wonderful acting by René Rivera as it examines one man’s struggle to find himself while also working to achieve his dreams. Written by Rivera’s wife Stacey Martino as an exercise in learning more about her husband’s past, the presentation is told chronologically, revealing Rivera’s struggle to integrate his Mexican-American pride with a more subdued white bread world.
Rivera buzzes with energy, a human pinball careening around the stage. Incredibly passionate and expressive, he demonstrates a cheeky sense of humor as well as determination and drive. His acting, which served as a shield when he was a child, becomes a potent realization of self-expression when it becomes a career.
Director Sal Romeo conceives the production around one man’s movement to find his rightful place in the world, keeping Rivera constantly on his toes dancing around the stage. Rivera can’t sit still as he fights to escape his world and false expectations. However, an occasional pause would allow the audience to catch its breath. Timing is spot-on between both actor and light/sound cues, adding to the dramatic effect.
Jeremy Pivnick perfectly sets scenes with his moody, evocative lighting, beautifully blending with Danuta Tomzynski’s simple, elegant set, which combines touches of a church, home, and underpass to suggest locations. Both are anchored by strong visual images projected on a high screen that further refine place.
Intense and energetic, The King of the Desert grabs you by the seat of the pants and doesn’t let go.
Coactive Content and American Latino Theatre present The King of the Desert on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m., through Dec. 4 at the El Portal Forum Theatre located at 5269 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. There are performances on Tuesday–Thursday, Nov. 8-10, at 8 p.m. There are no performances Nov. 11–13. Tickets cost $20; $15 for students, seniors, veterans, and guild members; $10 for groups of eight or more. For reservations or information, call (866) 811-4111 or (818) 508-4200, or visit www.elportaltheatre.com.