By Vicky Nguyen
Although heavy-handed, the all-Latina play festival, “Chicanas, Cholas y Chisme: Stand Up! Speak out!” urges vigilance in face of political and social strife.
“Chicanas, Cholas, y Chisme,” created by Casa 0101 founder Josefina Lopez, is a play festival featuring Latina writers and directors. Its sixth iteration opened last weekend at Casa 0101, premiering a dozen 10-minute plays.
“Stand up! Speak out!” implored playwrights to tell stories relating to the current political climate.
Topics included the #MeToo movement, DACA, transphobia and immigration. The festival showcased a variety of styles but almost always dipped into serious or difficult themes. Depictions of rape, abuse and violence were present throughout.
Images and footage of actual news are shown between performances was a powerful reminder that much of the drama unfolding on stage represented struggles occurring in the real world.
“November 8th,” written by Elvia Rubalcava and directed by Claudia Duran, served an excellent opening by establishing the festival’s political themes.
It showed a group of Latinas on the night of the 2016 presidential election reacting in various ways.
Their feelings of anger, fear and uncertainty, as well as hope, vigilance and solidarity will resonant familiarity to many.
Perhaps due to the nature of being 10 minutes, some plays struggled with lack of subtlety, feeling more like a public service announcement or a ’90s after-school special.
An egregious example was in “Speak English!” written by Claudia Duran and directed by Wendy Castro. William Jaramillo played a xenophobic teacher who belittles and mocks students who won’t “speak American.”
Dressed in a stuffy mustard suit and oversized glasses, he resembled “The Office’s” conflict-keen and haughty Dwight Schrute. The only thing missing was a giant mustache for him to twirl.
In “Mx/Mrx,” written by Cinnamon Riveras and directed by Angela Moore, a genderqueer character, played by Lauren Kate Kush casually expositions definitions on gender to two airheaded women, played by Sarah Garcia and Ana Tapia in the restroom.
It ends with an amusing twist, but it wasn’t enough to save the awkward dialogue.
In contrast, moments of refrain resulted in great emotional impact. In “Cycles,” written by Suzanne Linares and directed by Angela Moore, three generations of women struggle with being both victims and perpetrators of abuse.
The most powerful moment was not its dramatic call to action, but when a daughter played by Diana Cruz simply turned her head to reject hair brushing from her mother played by Raquel Salinas.
A small gesture, yet it said more than a lengthy monologue and was what earned the tears of audience members. Other stand-out performances were by Sarah Garcia and Lilian Tapia.
In “PC,” written by Wendy Castro and directed by Elvia Rubalcava, Garcia played the personification of the cheeky but well-meaning inner-voice of every struggling Chicana.
Armed with Castro’s witty dialogue and a hilarious ending, Garcia’s comedic timing was so well-received, audience members began laughing simply by her reappearance on stage, as a different character, in a performance that was two plays and a 10-minute intermission later.
Whether the dancing, yoga-practicing, pot-smoking grandma in “Selling & Buying” or the grandmother reminiscing on painful memories in “Regrets,” Lilian Tapia switched between playful and tearful convincingly.
She was particularly memorable alongside Raquel Salinas, with whom she has delightful chemistry, in “Regrets.”While education is appreciated, audiences don’t need to be beaten over the head with moral lessons to understand them.
When mature topics, such as sexual assault, domestic violence, and bigotry are involved, playwrights should give credit to audiences’ ability to appreciate depth and nuance.
Doing otherwise may seem like an insult to intelligence.
Nevertheless, the messages remain relevant. “Stand up! Speak out!” is an empowering collection of plays, epitomizing art’s role not as mere entertainment, but as political activism.
When the final play ended, and the lights turned on, an invigorated consciousness remained.
It manifested from understanding that while the narratives on stage concluded, the real life struggles they depicted have not.
“Chicanas, Cholas, y Chisme” plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. at Casa 0101 through April 15.
For tickets, call Casa 0101 theater box office at (323) 263-7684 or buy online at casa0101.org.