Bilingual Comedy Well-Received in Philadelphia!

¿Qué te hace reir? (What makes you laugh?) ¡La Gringa!

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Teatro del Sol took down its sets on Sunday May 5, 2019 after 3 weeks of performances of La Gringa by Carmen Rivera. Several of my students (intermediate Spanish speakers) attended the show during its run at the Latvian Society in Philadelphia, and when asked the question what makes them laugh, they spontaneously replied “that play, La Gringa.” Others, who were second generation immigrants from non-hispanic countries, related to the main character and her struggles to fit into the United States and the culture of her parents and relatives. They too felt as if they belonged nowhere. Others simply were moved by the story and cried when Tío Manolo passed.

The immediacy of these reactions speak to the acting ability of Teatro del Sol’s ensemble, the universality of the script and the accessibility of a bilingual Spanish/English production. If La Gringa had been presented only in Spanish without some kind of simultaneous translation (such as titles on a screen), my students probably would not have understood much of it. Moreover, even if one does understand the language well, the cultural references and jokes are often lost on those not intimately familiar with the culture. If performed in Engilsh, it would be more accessible to a non-Spanish speaking audience, but the language puns and the jibes or references to Maria’s poor Spanish would not have been easy to render. IMG_0619

La Gringa was a low budget endeavor but this new company on the Philly theatre scene, made the most of what they had and then some. (Direction was by José Avilés, stage management, Tanaquil Márquez and lighting by Dalton Whiting).  For example, the sound design by Eliana Fabiyi, reproduced the chirps of the “coqui” (native to Puerto Rico), which are central to the play and its symbolism. The lighting as decoration for the holiday season, set the stage for Manolo’s burst of wellness, and subsequent over the top antics.  Props were few, but the rosary for her grandmother’s headstone, a jacket with the Puerto Rican flag on the back, luggage, Manolo’s wheelchair and a yucca root, were all significant to the plot, and provided just enough visual effect to stimulate my imagination.

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The minimal set on two planes, separated by a few steps, created a feeling of depth and distance that facilitated scenery changes, whether in the house, on a farm or in the Yunque forest.

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Each audience member’s image of the location was unique, especially if they had never visited Puerto Rico. But perhaps that is part of La Gringa’s strength. Since each of us had to recreate the set in our minds, the characters and the actions were more personalized,  and deeply felt and experienced.

The ensemble cast worked well together and the pace was steady and appropriately quick. As Tío Manolo, Víctor Rodríguez Jr. was hysterical. He and Iris, played by Diana Rodriguez, inspired the most laughter. As Maria’s aunt Norma, Yajaira Paredes, was somber and serious in contrast. Her husband, Victor, played by José Avilés, was an all around good guy, buffering his wife’s abrasive personality from other members of the family.  As Maria, Marisol Custodio is a wide eyed idealist. Her naivete was palpaple and naturally expressed. The character of Monchi, played by Daniel Melo, was a breath of fresh air. Monchi is an engineer turned farmer, and it was encouraging to see a college educated male in the play, instead of the stereotypical latino characters (janitors, gangsters or struggling immigrants) that still predominate in film and television.

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This compelling family dynamic and the identity issues faced by Maria, made for a heartfelt and fun theatrical experience on Saturday afternoon, May 4, 2019. Not surprisingly, at the end of La Gringa,  the audience stood up and applauded enthusiastically.

Teatro del Sol has big plans for the rest of the year! To keep abreast of their future productions and initiatives, please visit their website:  http://www.teatrodelsol.org/

 

“La Gringa:” What Does it Mean to Be Puerto Rican?

Teatro del Sol at the Latvian Society, presents its first full production with “La Gringa” by Carmen Rivera. This 2 act play, directed by José Aviles, promises an endearing and uplifiting bilingual theatrical experience.

The play takes place in Puerto Rico and focuses on María, a 22 year old Puerto Rican, born in New York. “Nuyorican” was used in the 20th century to describe such a person, but it is never used in this play. María sort of speaks Spanish, which she learned in school (and not from her parents), and is excited to bond with her family on the island and explore her heritage. Except for some people on the island, she is a “gringa,” an American. Nevertheless, she is torn and frustrated, since in New York she doesn’t fit in either. There she is too Puerto Rican and considered just as much an outsider. La Gringa chronicles María’s search for her identity in short vignettes which depict family struggles as well as local Puerto Rican culture.

The latinx cast includes actors familiar to the Philly theatre scene: Marisol Custodio (María), Yajaira Paredes (Norma), Victor Rodríguez Jr. (Manolo), and Diana Rodríguez (Iris). José Aviles also plays Victor, in addition to directing and Daniel Melo, a recent graduate of the University of the Arts plays Monchi. Rounding out the production crew are Tanaquil Márquez, Krystal Rosa, Dalton Whiting and Eliana Fabiyi.

I saw one of the previews on April 20, 2019. The show officially opens on Friday April 26. Even though it would be unfair to critique a play in previews, suffice to say that two thirds of the audience stood up and applauded at the end of this work in progress on Saturday afternoon.

The play has one intermission and is approximately 2 hours. Don’t miss this premiere in Philadelphia by Teatro del Sol.

La Gringa by Teatro del Sol plays from April 26 to May 4, 2019 at the Latvian Society, 531 N 7th St, Philadelphia, PA 19123. Purchase tickets online or at the door. Visit their Facebook page at: Teatro del SolLA GRINGA POSTER FINAL (1)

New Latino Theater in Philadelphia: A Interview with Tana Márquez of “La Fábrica”

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Photo by Alfonso Rey

Those who read my blog and those who know me personally,  know that I have a passion for theater in Spanish, from the great works of the Spanish Baroque and Golden Age and zarzuela, to contemporary Latin American and Latino plays.  I have had the pleasure of attending Bodas de sangre and also Azul, bilingual productions that were performed in Philadelphia. Tanaquil Márquez was instrumental in both of them (as well as others).  I caught up with Tana and these are her exact words to questions I had about her involvement in bilingual theater in Philadelphia.

Deslumbrar: Tell me about the history of La Fábrica and your role in it. Why was this company created? What productions have you done so far?

– La Fábrica is a very new company, not even a year old yet! After Yajaira and I finished The Duende Cycle, a project I worked on with Eliana Fabiyi for the 2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival, we formed a great friendship, which shared the love of bilingual theater. From there we worked on a show called Ni tan Divas ni tan Muertas by Indira Páez, which was produced three times around the city. Shortly after we created La Fábrica. Yajaira and I who both work as Artistic Directors and Producing Managers for the company. We felt like there a void that needed to be filled for the growing local Latinx community. There was such a beautiful response from the audience who saw Duende and Divas in their native language (Spanish) that we felt compelled to really establish something here in the city. By producing strong and bold bilingual theatre, we hope to be a vehicle for social communion and positive change in Philadelphia. Our past shows include Azul, which was written and directed by me, exploring Picasso’s blue period through live Flamenco music and dance; and A 2,50 la Cuba Libre, written and directed by Ibrahim Guerra about 5 ficheras working in a bar. Both shows were revived in the winter, with the help of Jose Aviles directing A 2,50 la Cuba Libre in February.

Deslumbrar: La Fábrica has a production in the upcoming Fringe Festival (September 2018) in Philadelphia, called PASSPORT, by Gustavo Ott from Venezuela. Why this play?

-PASSPORT is current, important and poetic, diving into the question of immigration and exposing the mechanics of language and power. It is a very NOW show that we hope will captivate the audience, while raising awareness of our current immigration crisis.

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Photos by Alfonso Rey

 

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Deslumbrar: What future projects do you have in mind for La Fábrica?

-Definitely more Lorca! We want to explore Tanyo Saracho and Stephen Adly Guirgis as well as the theme of immigration. Yajaira and I are also developing a one act on the more comical side called Tu Gringa, Yo Chama. This is definitely a must see. It mixes the American and Venezuelan culture and humor very well, also anytime Yajaira opens her mouth she is hilarious.

Deslumbrar: Are you looking for sponsors, donors, actors, or production staff? How can those interested contact you? 

We are always looking to grow our team! Specifically, for PASSPORT we have teamed up with Free Migration Project, an organization whose mission is to support immigrant communities and to advocate for the right of all decent people to freely migrate. You can donate to support both companies here https://freemigrationproject.org/la-fabrica/. We are also hosting a fundraiser on Thursday, August 16 from 8-11pm at La Fusion Lounge, 1136 S 11th st. It is a Latin Dance-A-Thon, will be a very fun time with amazing prizes!

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For anyone who is interested in what we do and how they can be a part of it please email info@lafabricatheater.com.

La Fábrica is looking for your continuous support, in whichever form you can give, so that bilingual theatre can be a fixture in Philadelphia, allowing Spanish and English voices to speak and Spanish and English ears to hear in a constant communal dialogue.