“Jesus lives here!” shouts a hyped-up, sweating Pastor Elias, delivering a sermon from the pulpit of a small Pentecostal church.
It’s a vibrant start to “This Golden State, Part One: Delano,” Luis Alfaro’s first installment of a world-premiere trilogy, co-commissioned by the Magic Theatre and Oregon Shakespeare Festival, about a Latino family in California.
Part One is set in a hardscrabble community of farm workers in the Central Valley, four years into a drought that seems to be taking on biblical proportions.
Los Angeles playwright Alfaro, whose previous plays — two of which premiered at the Magic — have largely been based on Greek mythology, focuses here on a contemporary scenario. His exploration of faith and of values, both personal and societal, reverberates on many levels and is full of humor and mystery and a touch of the surreal.
Under Loretta Greco’s dynamic direction, the action takes place not just on the stage of the Magic Theatre, but throughout the audience as well, just as the church itself exerts its influence upon the townspeople.
Elias (a fiery, compassionate Sean San Jose) is a native son who now has his own church down in San Diego.
But he’s been called back to Delano, after a seven-year absence, by elderly parishioner Hermana Cantu (an excellent, multi-dimensional Wilma Bonet), who wants him to help save the struggling congregation. Her husband, the preacher, died recently, the membership is dispirited, and other, vague forces — including the ominous drought itself – threaten the church’s very existence.
Planning on a brief visit, Elias brings along his wife, Esther (played with graceful simplicity by Sarah Nina Hayon), and it is mostly through her eyes that we see the community, and two eccentric churchgoers: the devout and strident Cantu and the emotionally and comically unhinged Moises (Armando Rodriguez).
Mysteries abound: Why did Elias leave Delano so abruptly years ago? Who is the young pregnant woman (Carla Gallardo) whom only Elias can see? What precisely are the forces that threaten the parish? And what is the hidden agenda of the church association representative from Oregon (a sly and scary Rod Gnapp) who is lurking around and appears to know a lot of secrets?
Some of these questions remain unanswered, making Part One intriguing but inconclusive, with each character hinting at perhaps yet-to-be-revealed depths in further installments.
Beautifully designed (set by Andrew Boyce), performed and directed, “Delano” bodes well for those future installments.
This Golden State, Part One: Delano
Presented by Magic Theatre
Where: Building D, Fort Mason, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays; closes June 14
Tickets: $20 to $60
Contact: (415) 441.8822, www.magictheatre.org