Theater archives

Law and Disorder


The only thing remotely saintly about Michael and Fernie Santos—partners in the El Paso law firm of Santos and Santos—is their fraternal bond. These two flashy Mexican American attorneys would kill for each other. OK, so they’d kill for a lot of reasons, but like the Sopranos, they know the meaning of family love. Younger brother Tomás, an idealistic Stanford Law grad recruited at knifepoint to join the partnership, can’t help feeling queasy about the way his brothers have diversified their interests, combining cocaine trafficking with representation of impoverished Latinos. Armani suits, BMWs, and strung-out mistresses weren’t exactly what Papa Santos dreamed of when he moved his family across the border, but they sure beat the criminal drudgery that’s the fate of most of the firm’s clients.

A three-hour-long saga, Octavio Solis’s Santos and Santos blends melodrama, poetic soliloquy, and satiric parody to tell the story of a good brother gone bad. Here the focus is as much on Tomás’s personal tragedy as it is the oppressive Mexican American context that turns upward mobility into a perilous catch-22. Unavoidably, the episodic tale has a soap-opera feel—Dynasty and Dallas seem as much an influence as Shakespeare and Shepard. While the narrative drive never slows, the broad characterizations and flailing lyricism keep this compelling potboiler from being something dangerously more.

Director Michael John Garcés stages the action competently, yet his production has trouble handling the rapid tonal shifts. Santos and Santos requires actors to move instantly from realism to furious theatricality. This is beyond Garcés’s cast, but it’s doubtful whether even a smoother ensemble could have avoided stripping the play’s irregular gears.