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|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Teatro de las Américas-- a bilingual firebrand
by Martin Jones Westlin
"Pity poor Mexico", the saying goes: "³So far from God, and so close to the United States" The God part may or may not be open to question; Mexico¹s 100 million people are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, after all. But their proximity to this country traditionally carries a benefit on this side of the border. Imagine, for example, what would happen to California¹s economy if all its employed Mexican nationals, here legally or not, suddenly up and left.
Such an exodus might re-consign them to the poverty from which they presumably fled. Then again, money¹s only one barometer of wealth. Mexico and all of Latin America boast a richness of literature that often stems from this relative indigence.
This idea isn¹t lost on an Oxnard theater group now entering its second decade. Teatro de las Américas, which has performed out of Oxnard¹s Petit Playhouse since 1996, is intent on relaying it in a relevant way. In the process, artistic director Christina Aerenlund says, the group corrects a deficiency it perceives along the bridge between cultures.
"It is very sad," Aerenlund says, ³"that with so many Spanish speakers in this area, we¹re not even exploring what we bring with us." Let's present that which is such a great tradition what has been left behind, and two, to share it with those that don¹t know it exists. She adds: " Somebody in education said to me, 'You mean there¹s a formal theater in Latin America' I said, 'That's it. We gotta do something.²"
That was in 1992, when Dana Elcar, the former film and TV actor and currently an operator of the Santa Paula Theater Center, oversaw the loosely knit company. The group¹s Spanish-language re-creation of Henrik Ibsen¹s *A Doll's House generated a show of community support; it then took Carballido¹s Rose of Two Aromas under production on its own. The play and its theme of economic divisions wa according to , Aerenlund pivotal to the course the group currently charts.
Aaerenlund and her colleagues want to be contemporary and relevant, because most of the time that¹s what the people can relate to. They've done Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew and Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest both of which deal with the problems of the upper class. Most of the plays from Latin America deal with the difficulties of just surviving.
The producers simultaneously run English supertitles, or translations, via overhead projectors during the performance. Each culture thus is availed of this genre's themes. Social convention and self-actualization weigh heavily into the editorial mix. Case in point: Nora, which will open at the Petit on March 1 and run through March 29. This version begins where *A Doll's House ends, as a resolute Nora closes the door behind her. The next one she opens leads to the discovery of her identity much the better for the experience.
As director Lourdes Solorzano explains, " she did something very brave. She left behind her housewife title,. She didn't see the value anymore in getting up and feeding the kids and that was it." "Nora's job as a domestic" Solorzano added," supplies the authorial irony.Everything she was doing in her house was for free. Now, she¹s actually being paid for it."
In the course of things, Nora defies a core traditional element among Latinas, who once settled for the safety of hearth and home. A lot of women in that culture were afraid to go do something, so they stayed home.
Solorzano is likely directing by example. She's an unmarried student majoring in liberal arts at the Channel Islands campus of California State University, located in Camarillo aand spires to teach. *Nora* will be presented on a double with Hector Berthier's El Corsario Negro, about the manager of a small-town bus station manager who pirates away the futures of patrons succumbing to his charm. Aerenlund, a professional translator, conceded that Latin American play texts s are not that easy to come by. The economics involved in printing the works, often renders the process prohibitive; as well, the writers don¹t tend to retain their plays for posterity once s production closes. She adds that "as long as the issues persist, she added, Teatro de las Américas* will seek their exploitation. Otherwise it is an exercise in futility for the whole point is to share the activity with others, to showcase the ideas you¹re trying to convey. If that audience leaves the door having been changed, even if it is to be appalled by what takes place, that¹s what we want to do. We want people to feel something, to come away with something."
And that something, arguably, is the essence of theater art most relevant enactment of democracy yet devised.
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