Thunder Theater Performs ‘The Many Deaths of Danny Rosales’ (Part 1)

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Photo courtesy / Arte Público Press

The story of the play is still impactful, even in an abbreviated format.

Josh Haefner, Editor in Chief

Thunder Theater will perform its first show of the year at 5:30 on September 7th and 9th, Wednesday and Friday of this week. The play being performed, ‘The Many Deaths of Danny Rosales’, has a close connection to a teacher who has been on campus for 22 years.  

“I remember as a kid, my grandparents sending me newspaper articles about this case, even though I was living in LA,” Ruben Sandoval Jr., a social studies teacher, said. 

Sandoval’s connection to this play is familial, his father Ruben Sandoval served as a lawyer in the case that the play is based on, which occurred in 1975. 

“In its day this case was extremely high profile. It was kinda the George Floyd case of its day,” Sandoval said. 

The case involved the shooting of Ricardo Morales, an unarmed Mexican American, by Frank Hayes, a Texas Marshal.  

“This case really galvanized the Mexican American community,” Sandoval said. “It was another case of police officers killing a Latino and violating due process.” 

Since finding out about the play, Sandoval has wanted it to be performed at Coronado. This year will mark the first time it has.  

“We’ve been trying for years now to have the play performed at Coronado, and I couldn’t be more excited for the showings,” Sandoval said. “I’m very glad that a production is happening here, and my students can participate. It’s been my goal for a couple of years, and I really look forward to it.” 

Sandoval has extensive knowledge of the play, and despite some dramatization, believes that the real case has been done justice. 

“The play brings to light the injustice of the system, and it does the real case justice by highlighting that injustice within the judicial system,” Sandoval said. “There’s the haves and the have-nots. It’s the justice system, but for those with power and influence over others it’s the just us system.” 

Dr. Carlos Morton, who wrote the play, did careful research while developing the story. 

“I approached it like I was writing an article for the paper, from a journalistic point of view, wanting to know more about the people, the place, and all the details,” Morton said.  

Morton believes that this case was ideal for dramatization and said it’s almost as if it was waiting to be written.  

“It was almost like the play was just waiting for someone to do it,” Morton said. “It had a beginning, middle, and maybe not an end, but after the death there were two trials. It had a structure that leant itself to dramatization.” 

While Morton did careful research and learned the facts, the process of dramatization requires some artistic license. Names were changed, and the gender of Sandoval Sr. was as well, among other details. 

“There are some things in the play that are based on real life, but there are some things where I took poetic license,” Morton said. “The real Richard Morales was a farm worker, but I wrote another backstory to give him more character, and the family recognized that wasn’t all the real him.” 

One thing Morton saw as critically important was helping the cast understand the story in terms of their own lives. 

“The students had trouble grasping the world of the play, so I told them ‘Ok Danny and Berta they grew up in the Segundo Barrio and they go to Bowie,” Morton said. “The Hayes family go to Coronado. They don’t really mix. Rowena, the lawyer, attended Loretto academy, she’s also a child of privilege. I’m telling the cast this to help them imagine the world of the play.” 

Another figure very much involved in the production is Martyn Morales, the theater teacher. 

“When I first started teaching here Mr. Sandoval had spoken to me about a play that was written about his father, so he asked me if I could take a look at it and if I’d be interested in producing it and I told him we could definitely do it,” Martyn said. “Covid kinda postponed the show for a long time but it was around last year I told him we would do it this year and now we’re in full production and it opens next week.” 

Martyn said that the cast is ready for the show, and that he looks forward to people seeing it.  

“I’m excited, Martyn said. “I think it’s been something that we’ve been talking about and to finally execute it and get to show it to the community is gonna be something exciting to do.” 

The cast have been rehearsing for weeks in order to play their roles. Fernanda Arellano, who is playing Rowena Saldivar, is confident.  

“I think I am a good fit to play Rowena, at least to some level,” Arellano said. “I can relate a lot to her because she is Hispanic as well.” 

Arellano has been preparing on and off stage for the role.  

“Usually, I give myself some time to be this character, and just think of random situations and how she would handle them or like her backstory,” Arellano said.  

Before the play there will be a Question-and-Answer session with Ruben Sandoval Jr. about the real case. Doctor Morton strongly believes the case still matters today.  

“We still have this kind of abuse of power by the police, whether it’s against a black man, against Mexicans, or even against whites,” Morton said. “This kind of stuff is still happening. As long as the guards who are supposed to protect us are the judge and jury, it could happen to you, it could happen to me. It could happen to anybody.”