‘Many May Not Return’: An interview with two actors
Cast members read through the play script. Teresa del Carmen Gonzalez

LONG BEACH, Calif.—The anti-war play Many May Not Return, by David Trujillo, touches on current political issues and global events, such as this being an election year, the recent assassination in Iraq of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by U.S. troops, which created the black cloud of war hanging over the future. These are signs of the times. Even though the play focuses on the Korean and Vietnam wars and how a Mexican-American family copes with the involvement of their family members in the armed services. The themes are current: Patriotism, honor, and the opportunity to better one’s future through the benefits offered to veterans. That is, if you beat death, and emotional, physical, and psychological trauma, events we too often personally experience, read or hear about in the news.

I had the opportunity to interview two of the cast members of the play, Terry Reyes and Ismael Parra. Terry Reyes plays the grandmother and the matriarch of the family. Ismael Parra plays the musician who brings the play alive with his melodic voice and guitar workmanship expressing the emotions of the characters and scenes in the play.

People’s World: As the musician, Ismael, what message are you trying to convey to the audience?

Ismael: The general message of the play is about peace. It’s also about the kind of devastation and violence that war brings to families—not physical violence so much, but mental, traumatic violence. That’s what I try to convey through the music, and how it affects us as people of color in particular since we are the ones dying in greater numbers percentage-wise than the dominant white Anglo society.

PW: Have there been any changes to the music since the inception of the play?

Ismael: Yes, the music has undergone several changes. We are using one piece which we have commissioned from an artist named Daniel Valdez. We have used most of the text, but have changed a little bit of it, and kept the music. We also changed the other pieces of music in the play and we created all new melodies and our own text. So yes, the music and the text have undergone changes to accommodate the play more, to accommodate the content, the intent, and the mood of the play.

PW: What inspired you to select the songs in the play? Did the director or writer suggest any songs?

Ismael: Well, one of the original theme songs we used is from the 1960s, when struggles were going on with the farmworkers. And the other pieces we used are current. I developed the melody and the text, that were both refined in conjunction with the director.

PW: Do you model your character after anyone?

Ismael: The musician plays a role that goes between the audience and the stage, or the audience and the characters in the play, as well as relating individually to the characters. It is sort of like the chorus in ancient Greek tragedy, where the chorus could talk to the characters or talk to the audience and create a bridge of understanding between the audience and the characters.

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PW: Terry, how do you feel about reprising your role as the grandmother or matriarch of the family?

Terry: I am excited to reprise the role of Emiliana. This is an opportunity that I did not expect when we learned the play would be staged at the Long Beach Playhouse. I am so fortunate that I will be working with three of the original cast members, Chandra, Blake, and Ismael. I also have the opportunity to work with a number of talented new cast members.

PW: How do you view her character in the play?

Terry: Emiliana is the matriarch of the family. Like mothers in all cultures, she worries and is concerned about her children and grandchildren no matter what age they may be. Being a farmworker, she has physical endurance due to manual labor. She has firm beliefs, moral convictions, and is a spiritual woman with strong religious beliefs in her faith. Listen closely to her dialogue in the flashbacks, and you will hear that she was ahead of her time. She believed in social justice.

PW: Is your character based on anyone?

Terry: You would have to ask the playwright if Emiliana is based upon one person or a combination of different women that the playwright knew or was related to.

PW: Do you think the grandmother is the central figure in the play?

Terry: For me, there is no central character to the play. Each character has an integral part in the play. The audience, I believe, can identify with one or more characters according to age, life circumstances, encounters with various social justice issues, and/or life experiences. In June, the play was staged in Chicago, and I was an audience member. It was my first time seeing the play in its entirety. I found myself identifying with Emiliana as a mom and grandmother. I also identified with Catalina as the eldest of the family, pursuing an education and trying to hold the family together in a time of crisis. Back to the question, each character depends on the other; in other words, there is no central figure. That is my perspective.

I invite you to attend the play, watch Terry and Ismael make their characters come to life, alongside the rest of the cast.

Many May Not Return runs at the Long Beach Playhouse on Fri., Jan. 24 and Sat., 25 at 8 p.m. and on Sun., Jan. 26 at 2 p.m. After the matinee on January 26, there will be a Q&A with members of the cast and production crew. The theatre is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach 90804. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at lbplayhouse.org or by calling the box office at (562) 494-1014.


Teresa del Carmen Gonzalez
Teresa del Carmen Gonzalez

Teresa del Carmen Gonzalez is a Los Angeles community activist and a member of the National Writers Union. A retired educator and administrator of the Los Angeles Unified School District, she has always been a supporter and advocate of immigrant families and Second Language Learners, especially those identified as students with disabilities.