La Voz Latina: Contemporary Plays and Performance Pieces by Latinas

Kevin Tobar Pesántez

Edited by Elizabeth C. Ramírez, Catherine Casiano
University of Illinois Press, 2011
$60.00; 368 pp.; ISBN-13: 978-0252036224
Kevin Tobar Pesántez, phati’tude Literary Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 4

ELIZABETH C. RAMÍREZ and Catherine Casiano present a whirlwind of Latina playwrights in La Voz Latina. At times this collection may seem chaotic in selection but in the end all of this diversity blends into a wonderful hue accompanied by a sharp critique and representation of Latina theatre. The book covers an extensive span of topics and the editors have selected a group of prominent, passionate, and eclectic Latina playwrights from 1980 to present. Ramirez and Casiano draw myriad amounts of knowledge from past anthologies of Latina writers and playwrights while also making sure to include an incisive and clear voice. In the shadow of all of the plays in this collection this voice is continuously reminding us of the cultural, sociological, and anthropological aspects of theatre, which give impetus to the community building forces it has. While the individual plays have allowed for distinct types of Latinas/os to have a voice this anthology has allowed for these works of art to come into a greater dialogue with each other about the ever-changing Latina/o identity.

The book contains six sections: (1) “Creating a Performance Voice: Themes of Family, Religion, and Community,” (2) “Chicanas and Chicano Teatro: Staging Identity,” (3) “La Indígena/The Indigenous: Staging Myth, (4) “Race Matters,” (5) “Where is Home and How Do We Get There?,” and (6)”Commentary on Latina Theatre in the United States.” The first five sections contain a total of eleven plays and the last section contains two pieces of commentary. Each section has an introduction followed by the plays. Each play-text is accompanied by short sections that introduce “The Playwright,” followed by an “About the Play” section. Additionally we are given the “Artistic Vision,” which consists of a brief interview of the playwrights by the editors of the anthology. Lastly, before the play-text itself, we are given the “Production History” and contact information of the playwrights.

In the exploration of family, religion, and community we are graced with the most produced Chicana/o play during the late 1980s, Roosters by Milcha Sanchez. This play, touching on issues of machismo, feminism, and love, incorporates a magical realism that runs through the playwright’s veins and is translated into a powerful work that floats off of the paper for readers. In the same vein, Cherríe Moraga talks about the central theme of the family in her play Waiting for Da God. This depressing, yet uplifting, play deals with issues of loss in various perspectives, family, and transformation. Through deaths, failures, and dementia we are able to see out of Moraga’s very real and personal lens. In The Path to Divadom, Or how to Make Fat-free Tamales in G minor, Diane Rodriguez tells us a story of a changing recipe for changing times. We are met with the values of upholding tradition and at the same time are faced with a head on, satirical, and “big ole” challenge to tradition. Yareli Arizmendi’s Who Buys Your Shoes?, a dramatic-comedic monologue for six takes form in characters as distinct as a chubby teenage Chicana girl to a Chicana lesbian who is also a rape survivor. All of her characters in this prescient play speak not just for Chicanas but also for all Latinas.

Insofar as the indigenous is concerned, Celia Herrera Rodríguez’s Cositas Quebradas: Performance Codex exemplifies the broken parts that Latinas/os are. She reminds us though, in her harrowing and ritualistic language, that we all belong to a huge mythological and indigenous past. This is something that is often forgotten but that the Colorado Sisters remind us of in their play Mimixcoa — Cloud Serpent. In a dreamlike journey through time and memory the Sisters lead us back to our origins while traversing centuries of shame that plague the Latina/o subconscious. When looking at race Josefina Báez leads us through a non-linear expedition in which we find ways to decolonize our selves through or bodies and with movement. Touching upon the major issues that plague the Dominican discourse (misogyny, homophobia, negrophobia among many) Báez truly proves that race matters in her play Dominicanish. On the other hand while Evelina Fernández presents us with a more traditional play, Luminarias, she breaks traditional Latina roles. Whereas most of the time the Latina plays the victim in this daring and truly modern play Fernández creates more positive roles wherein issues of self-hatred, hatred of Anglos, and mistrust of other cultures are played with.

Lastly, this question of Where is Home and How Do We Get There? Carmen Peláez offers us two short plays El Postre de Estrada Palma and My Cuba. In these plays, we are met with stories of grandparents in exile and a character on her way to Cuba. Both of these stories, filled with longing and comedic relief, offer us doorways into the memories that constitute the home of Cuba that was left behind by so many long ago. In Carmen Rivera’s La Gringa we are encountered with the hilarious return of a second-generation Nuyorican to the homeland of Puerto Rico. This tale of reconnection and light humor is juxtaposed intensely with the last play in this anthology, Another Part of the House by Migdalia Cruz. In this reworking of Federico García Lorca’s La Casa de Bernarda Alba, Cruz brings to life soul-searching and traumatic episodes of a grandmother forcing her granddaughters into subversive acts that translate the tragedy of this play.

In the last section of this book, the two commentary pieces by Kathy Perkins and Caridad Svich challenge us with questions of the significance and future of Latina/o theatre in the U.S. In the end, La Voz Latina gives a refreshing point of view on issues that matter most to the Latina/o community. Although we do not see a huge diversity among the nationalities/origins of the playwrights, we are met with strong and influential Latina voices that speak for the whole community at once through their works. Ramírez and Casiano have allowed for us to have an incredible insight into this world along with the challenges it faces in the coming times.

ELIZABETH C. RAMÍREZ is the fine arts specialist administrator with the Edgewood Independent School District of San Antonio, Texas, and the author of Chicanas/Latinas on the American Stage: A History of Performance.

CATHERINE CASIANO has assisted Elizabeth C. Ramírez with numerous dramaturgical projects and is an attorney practicing family and criminal law with indigent Latina/o populations in San Antonio.

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