April 13, 2016 | Theatre,
Complex Identities & Contemporary America by Polly Carl
I write this note the day after President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba, and a day after the Arizona primary where a candidate who supports building a wall to stop immigration won the majority of votes. As theatre makers living in a cultural moment of demographic shifts that expand the definition of what it means to be an American in complex and exciting ways, we think about the role of stories in bringing us towards a better and deeper understanding of each other and our shared humanity, and as a way to illuminate our historical moment.
In November of 2014 I had the opportunity to attend the 2014 Los Angeles Theatre Center Encuentro, produced in association with Latina/o Theatre Commons and HowlRound. Translated as “an encounter”—it was an opportunity for a group of theatre artists to encounter each other inside the work of a festival of Latina/o plays from the U.S. and Puerto Rico. At the Encuentro, I saw twelve plays over three days! They were all terrific but two felt particularly important to bring to Boston: Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary and Premeditation. Daughter is a solo performance by Marissa Chibas, who tells the story of her Cuban family and their pivotal role in the Cuban Revolution, and what it means to live as a daughter in America, while still deeply rooted in the events of another time and another country. I suggest Kleenex for this one as Marissa dives deep into the meaning of family and how our histories shape our present. That said, you won’t need the Kleenex for Premeditation unless you cry when you laugh. It’s hilarious. A true comedy in every sense of the word. The joy of this noir-inspired play is a result of ensemble acting work that is thirty years in the making. The Latino Theater Company has been creating theatre together for three decades and in every exchange you will feel the deep bond of a group of actors who know each other intimately, who finish each other’s sentences and move in an eerie confluence of connection across the stage. Around the same time as the Encuentro, at another festival in Santiago, Teatrocinema’s Historia de Amor was premiering. A distinctly Chilean story that explores the most twisted part of the human psyche, this performance uses technology in a way none of us at ArtsEmerson has ever experienced before, combining the look and feel of the graphic novel with new technology and live bodies on stage.
All of us at the Encuentro connected through a deep conversation about the diversity of Latina/o identity. How does Latina/o encompass so much, we asked, and how can the theatre reflect the breadth of Latinidad? At ArtsEmerson we bring you these three stories as a way of beginning a conversation (one we will continue in our Public Dialogue Series on May 10th) that pushes us past the singularity of certain words into the multiplicity of complex identities that reflect a contemporary America.