Buddy and Connie Villa are Chicanos who, after thirty years of marriage, have risen from the barrio of East Los Angeles to a comfortable middle-class life in Monterey Park, a suburban enclave once wholly Anglo-American but now populated by successful immigrants. Buddy and Connie have achieved the American Dream of material success through their careers as Hollywood bit-part actors, having played those stereotypical roles of maids, gardeners, and bandits which Spanish actors have rarely been able to transcend. Buddy and Connie have few complaints, however, for their careers have enabled them to put their daughter Lucy through medical school and to send their son Sonny to Harvard Law School. Indeed, Buddy proudly refers to himself and Connie as the Silent Bit King and Queen of Hollywood.
The den of their tract home, where the entire play is set, is fitted with all the modern equipment of the good life, most notably a large console television and video recorder. This could be the den of any American home, since the only sign of the family’s ancestral heritage is an imitation Aztec calendar stone hanging above the fireplace. This artifact is less prominent than an old framed poster of the 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which starred Humphrey Bogart.
A short prologue introduces Buddy Villa and reveals the allusion of the title. It is late at night, and Buddy, who is fifty-seven with a slight paunch, is sitting asleep while the video recorder plays a scene from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It is the scene in which Bogart and his companions are trapped in the mountains of Mexico by bandits, who are trying to prevent their escape with the gold they have mined. When the bandits approach, pretending to be federal police, Bogart asks to see their badges, to which a bandit responds: “I don’t have to show you no stinkin’ badges!” The scene ends with a gun battle, but throughout Buddy has remained asleep in his easy chair. Later in the play, Buddy reveals that he had his first professional part as one of the bandits in the film.
The first scene of act 1 opens on an early morning that finds Connie, an attractive Chicana of forty-eight, talking on the telephone to a friend when Buddy enters from his morning jog. Though Connie banters good-naturedly with Buddy, several serious issues form the subtext of their conversation. Buddy once had a “drinking problem,” and he continues to drink beer heavily, which may in part account for episodes of impotence. Buddy becomes annoyed when Connie rejects as unsalable his idea for a film script that would feature a Chicano spaceman. Buddy’s annoyance manifests itself in several racist comments directed at his Mexican and Chinese neighbors. Clearly, he feels trapped. Connie, on the other hand, seems content with having achieved middle-class status, and now she has identified her own goal of seeking bigger acting parts. One opportunity that may be offered her would take her on location to Panama for her first speaking part and first job without Buddy. Buddy unequivocally refuses her permission to take the role, and a clash is avoided only when her agent calls to offer both of them parts in a soap opera. Buddy’s attempt to defuse Connie’s dream by reminding her they “haven’t gotten this far” by fooling themselves is decidedly ironic, since the scene ends with Buddy referring again to his film idea.
In act 1, scene 2, Sonny arrives home in the evening of that same day with his new girlfriend, Anita, an Asian American who is intent on breaking into Hollywood. Buddy and Connie are out on a job. As Sonny and Anita settle in, it becomes clear that he loves her as a symbol “of everything beautiful in my life,” though Anita does not return this love. When Anita goes to take a shower, Sonny reveals in dramatic monologues that he is tired of meeting his parents’ expectations and that he sees that it is time to reach inside himself and grapple with the “white whale.” Moments...
(The entire section is 1,804 words.)