Category Archives: Theater

At the theater: Lorca’s timeless works

LorcaFederico García Lorca’s plays were written in the 1920s and 1930s, but they are still relevant today.

Teatro Dallas will present a “Homage to Federico García Lorca,” which includes a Cientos de Pájaros te Impiden Andar/A Hundred Birds Prevent you from Walking, an adaption of the Spaniard’s Blood Wedding, Feb. 8-9 and a series of stage readings of Lorca’s poems Feb. 22, 23, 24 and March 1, 2 and 3.

Cientos de Pájaros, a one-woman show by Maria Vidal of Santander, Spain, will also be presented Feb. 15-16 by La Casa de España de Houston.

Cora Cardona, artistic/managing director for Teatro Dallas, says the tribute to Lorca (above) seemed natural after she discovered Vidal was visiting Texas.

“He’s timeless in that he still has have issues that are relevant today,” she says. “Lorca is definitely one of these writers that speaks to us.”

In the production, a woman has an affair with a man but her family disapproves of him. She separates from him, and her family arranges for her to marry another man. Then she sees her old lover again – and the story ends in tragedy.

The play, which takes place in the 1920s and 1930s, brings up several elements Lorca is known for – addressing societal issues that remain relevant today, such as women’s independence and domestic violence, and his use of nature interacting with characters, like the moon and animals talking to the couple.

The company’s homage to Lorca will continue with a stage reading of his “Romancero Gitano” – which reflects Lorca’s Gypsy background – with local artists.

Cardona noted that Lorca lived in a repressive, violent time period in his native country – and his plays seem to be about family when they’re symbolic of his homeland.

“He foresaw the future in many ways, especially when it came to capitalism and social issues,” she says. “It’s amazing he was already thinking about what was happening in the future.”

Note: This article also appeared in a slightly different form on the Theater Jones website.

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At the theater: Taking Sandra Cisneros’ words from print to the stage

Vanessa DeSilvio (center), with S-Ankh Rasa (left) and Armando Monsivias (right), plays Our Lady of Guadalupe in "Milagritos." Photo courtesy Cara Mia Theatre.

Vanessa DeSilvio (center), with S-Ankh Rasa (left) and Armando Monsivias (right), plays Our Lady of Guadalupe in “Milagritos.” Photo courtesy Cara Mia Theatre.

(Note: The Hispanic Reader is still on hiatus, but I wrote this article for the Theater Jones website, which appeared in a slightly different version. Enjoy the holidays and I’ll see you in January.)

“I had to stay up to read it,” she says. “I immediately connected with it.”

So much so that Barrera adapted it into the play, Milagritos / little miracles, which the Cara Mía Theatre Co. stages until Dec. 15 at the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas. Cisneros attended the opening night production.

Cara Mía is presenting the play, which director David Lozano bills it as a “holiday classic,” for the second time. The title comes from the short story, “Little Miracles, Kept Promises,” in which pilgrims come to a shrine to give thanks to Our Lady of Guadalupe—an iconic Mexican symbol who appeared before peasant Juan Diego on Dec. 12, 1531.

“The characters’ range (of prayers) reflects the diversity of life’s experiences, from problems with pimples to more serious health issues, to lost love and loves that need to get lost,” Barrera says.

Barrera was especially drawn to the lead character, Chayo.

“I found not only myself in her but the Chicanos I was running into,” Barrera says, adding that Cisneros based the characters on folks she knew. “That’s why her works are so relevant. We read them and it’s like, ‘Yes, I know this story, I know this woman.’ “

Lozano agrees.

“Everyone knows these characters from our community,” Lozano says. “I think that’s what grabs people. The more you read it, the more you start peeling away some transformational pieces that become pure poetry.”

The story illuminates the people beyond the Latino neighborhood and into the Catholic community, he says.

“You talk to Catholic people and they have their miracle story,” he says. “Their prayers are heard.”

Eliberto Gonzalez, the president and co-founder of Cara Mía, knew Cisneros and got permission for Cara Mía to present the play when it first ran in 1998. Adapting the book is always full of surprises.

“Cisneros’ works aren’t dramatic narratives, and are more sophisticated than readers realize,” Lozano says. “Most folks will get more of the sense of the everyday quality of these characters and what they live through, while astute readers will recognize the symbolism and poetic quality.”

“Her writing is very complex at times and so when you start really repeating and working through these lyrical imagery, the symbolism of such profound events, you begin [to see] a larger universe that is very real to us,” he says.

Barrera, a Southern Methodist University graduate and a San Antonio-based playwright, director, actress, artist and community arts educator, says Cisneros has seen the play before, and she was supportive.

“I think she really felt the stories and listening to them in that way,” Barrera says. “[She enjoyed] her own work in a way she hadn’t before.”

If you live in the Dallas area, you can catch Milagritos  at 8 p.m., Thursdays-Saturdays, Dec. 1-15 at the Latino Cultural Center, 2600 Live Oak Street, Dallas. Tickets are $12-$30. Go to caramiatheatre.org for details.

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At the theater: Kristoffer Diaz’s “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”

“At the Theater” is a feature in which I check out plays by Latino writers. The article is intended to be a look at the author’s work and not a review of the theatrical production – so no comments about acting, lighting or staging. I caught the Dallas Theater Center production of “Chad Deity.”

Kristoffer Diaz’s The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity explores the issue of race through an offbeat forum – the wrestling ring.

Macedonia “Mace” Guerra is a Puerto Rican who grew up in the Bronx and now works as a wrestler – but he’s always there to lose. The star is Chad Deity, an Apollo Creed-type character, but without the talent.

Vigneshwar Padura, a young, enthusiastic Indian-American, aspires to get into the ring. So the wrestling association’s chief, Everett K. Olson, agrees to let him participate – albeit as a Muslim fundamentalist, complete with a long bushy beard and ammunition on his chest. His opponent is Mace – now billed as Che Chávez Castro.

Deity deals with serious issues in a humorous format. Mace speaks of the frustrations of stereotypes, but he’s more weary than preachy. The show – much of it Mace’s monologue – flows smoothly with good audience interaction.

The play was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2010. It was first produced in Chicago and has been presented in Berkeley, Calif., Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C., and is currently playing in Dallas and Colorado Springs until Nov. 11. This is a play that draws as much reflection as it does laughs. If you get the chance, go see it.

More about Kristoffer Diaz:

Kristoffer Diaz also has written the plays Welcome to Arroyo’s, Guernica, and #therevolution. He won the 2011 New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award.

 

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Labor Day literature: The farmworkers movement in print

Americans will celebrate workers this Labor Day weekend. Two of the Latino community’s most prominent figures – César Chávez and Dolores Huerta – led the farmworkers movement in the 1960s, demanding better conditions for the workers who picked grapes in California. The movement not only had an impact on workers’ rights, but on Latino literature as well.

Here’s a look at some books about Chávez and Huerta, a couple of novels that portray the life of farmworkers, and the story of how the movement gave birth to one of the Hispanic community’s most prominent theaters:

For children: Children can learn about the movement in Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and César Chávez by Monica Brown, Harvesting Hope: The Story of César Chávez by Kathleen Krull and Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers, by Sarah Warren.

For adults: The Words of César Chávez is a book of Chávez’s speeches and writings. It was included in the Library of Congress exhibit, The Books That Shaped America. Delano: The Story of the California Grape Strike, by John Gregory Dunne and Ilan Stavans, is a comprehensive look at the strike, while Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa by Jacques Levy focuses on Chávez. (A film of Chávez’s life is being made into a movie starring Diego Luna, according to The Los Angeles Times.) The Fight in the Fields by Susan Ferriss and Ricardo Sandoval is the companion to the 1997 PBS documentary of the same title.

Fiction: Two of Latino literature’s most acclaimed novels focus on the plight of farmworkers. The 2000 young adult novel Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan depicts a teenager working the fields in the 1920s. The 1996 novel Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Viramontes tells the story of California farmworkers through the eyes of a 13-year-old worker.

Theater: During the Delano Grape Strike, Luis Valdez began presenting plays on flatbed trucks and union halls. He eventually founded El Teatro Campensino, and went on to write the play and the movie Zoot Suit and the movie La Bamba. He recently talked about his theater’s roots to AARP VIVA radio. (The program is in Spanish.)

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Happy birthday, Jacinto Benavente y Martinez!

Jacinto Benavente y Martinez was born Aug. 12, 1866 in Madrid, Spain, and died July 14, 1954. The playwright won the 1922 Nobel Prize in Literature – one of only 12 Latinos to win the award – for his comedic works that poked fun at society. He had written 170 plays in his life. His most famous play was 1907’s Los intereses creados (The Bonds of Interest), which focuses on a man who manipulates others.

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Happy birthday, Luis Valdez!

Luis Valdez was born June 26 in 1940. He is regarded as the father of Latino theater and the playwright of perhaps the most famous Latino play of all time – Zoot Suit.

A former migrant worker, the California-raised Valdez was inspired to go into theater after a teacher cast him in a school play, according to the San Jose Mercury News. He didn’t perform in the production, but the experience led him to study drama at San Jose State University.

In the 1960s, he marched with United Farm Workers leader César Chávez. He founded El Teatro Campesino – with shows performed on flatbed trucks and union halls during the Delano Grape Strike.

The company later moved to San Juan Bautista, Calif. In 1977, the theater performed Zoot Suit, which was inspired by the 1940s riots in Los Angeles. The play was a smash – going on to Broadway in 1979 and becoming a movie, which Valdez directed, in 1981.

Valdez also directed the 1987 movie La Bamba, about music great Ritchie Valens. His theater company continues to produce plays today. He recently talked about his career in this radio interview.

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Happy Birthday, José Echegaray!

José Echegaray was born on this date in 1833 in Madrid, Spain, and died in 1916. The dramatist is one of only a dozen Latinos to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he won in 1904.

Echegaray was a mathematician who was working for the government when he decided to pursue a career in his first love – theater. His plays, known for their romanticism, were wildly popular in his country. His most famous play is 1881’s El gran Galeoto (The Great Galeotto) about the effects of gossip on one man.

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