There is nothing more difficult than the moment of isolation. No moment more captivating then when a performer shows the ability to stand alone and simply “just say it.” It is then that the trappings spectacle and stylized conventions of theatre bleed away and a pure unencumbered connection is forged between the audience and that lonely human sole onstage. This is the audience connection that is most powerful and one in which the audience trust in the performer is either rewarded or lost. The willing suspension of disbelief cannot be suspended any longer; the show must provide an undeniable truth. All this is occurring in that brief moment onstage, and it is this moment that an audience feeds off of in order to further invest into the show emotionally. This is where the catharsis comes. This is the moment that makes theatre powerful.
Los Actores’ production of Confessions of Women from East L.A., performing this weekend at the Chamizal National Memorial, is a show that is loaded with non-stop moments of actor isolation. The piece, written by Josefina Lopez, is a collection of nine monologues (this performance features eight) that relate the identity issues that faced Latinas in 1996. (Like most monologue pieces, some are written better than others and some are still undeniably relevant while others are a bit dated.) Josefina Lopez undoubtedly shows boldness in approaching the subjects of race and sexuality, and the show’s two young directors, Joanne Lopez and Cecilia Brooke Cholka, show the same boldness in selecting the piece, but the piece is bound a bit in the writing which leads to difficulties in performance and staging that this production does not always overcome. In these aforementioned moments of truth Confessions often misses as much as deliver.
The removal of the opening monologue about a “Super Latina” works well, because although the piece shows the only “successful” woman in the play, it also contains moments of forced comedy that the rest of the play does not follow, sometimes misleading an audience. Thus, the production begins with one of the more powerful images of the entire show as the black clad, black veiled women silently mourn the countless losses of life due to the violence south of our border.
From this point Dian Duron takes the stage as Dona Conception. This piece contains some scripted elements that are designed to show the shock and repulsion that a confessional priest has with Dona’s confession, unfortunately the performance fails to deliver on the desperate repulsion that Dona inspires in him. As is the case often in the show, the performance flirts with provocation rather than boldly embracing it. Duron is an experienced performer who is capable of dealing with the emotional brutality of the show and audiences should expect that power from her come opening night.
This is immediately followed by one of the more powerfully written pieces of the text. Lolita, played by Denise Castaneda, is the intriguing vamp that empowers herself through flirtation and sexual domination in order to maintain “control.” Castaneda encompasses many of these qualities, but the revelation of control as a survival necessity, while trying to convince a fellow pharmacy customer, feels a bit disconnected, especially when the piece reveals the intriguing twist at the end. Similar to Lolita is the character of Tiffany, who empowers herself through the works of Frida Kahlo. Tiffany is solidly played by Adriana Orpinela, but like the character of Lolita, Tiffany is a borderline caricature in the writing, and at times in performance. The pieces work their best when Castaneda and Orpinela's bahaviors do not overshadow the fact that behind the visage of these outward appearances the women are multi-faceted and capable women dealing with complex issues. These complexities become riveting when dealt with honestly and simply, when these women burst through these outward social masks that they have constructed.
Calletana as played by Irene Taylor and Dona Florinda as performed by Luisa Elberg-Urbina, charmed me in their respective pieces. I felt that both these women avoided some of the traps that Confessions can lead to in the writing, mainly the presentation and portrayal of these women as victims. The playing of “victimization” in search for emotion or audience sympathy is actually quite alienating. The dramatic conflict of all the characters in the piece is their struggle to be happy, their fighting spirit to possess the human dignity that they deserve. Taylor and Elberg-Urbina do an extremely solid job of avoiding self pity and allowing the audience to feel for them.
This leads to the extremely difficult pieces tasked to Aidee Rodriguez and Roberta Guerra as Yoko and Roxy, respectively. Although Rodriguez’s Japanese speech and dance look authentic, both performances fall a bit flat. This may be due in large part to the fact that Confessions all too often degrades other people with horrific stereotypes (Men in the show are abusive, cheaters and rapists showing no redeeming qualities. The Japanese have small genitalia and breasts, Jewish men are good with money, white people lack passion, et cetera) while attempting to denounce and destroy any stereotypical assumptions about Latinas. The backpedaling becomes an exercise in self-consumption and no two pieces represent this more than Yoko and Roxy. The characters themselves can be highly flawed, vulnerable humans, but the pieces don’t offer the performers simple routes into audience empathy and the young actresses struggle a bit to carry Josefina’s weight.
The final piece of the night comes to Eurydice Saucedo portraying the intense revolutionary Valentina. Saucedo proves solid enough and strong enough to convey the role, but somewhat lacks the fiery conviction Valentina’s heroes Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King, Jr. If Saucedo is literally able to unite and inspire these disparate Latinas and us the audience then the show will truly come together in the passionate exultation of camaraderie that Valentina calls out for.
For the most part Lopez and Cholka keep the play moving, although the staging tends to be a bit repetitive and the transitions of dialogue from onstage characters to audience are a bit muddy, and perhaps even unnecessary, in some parts. Still the two directors have an understanding of the play's progression and a genuine respect for Josefina Lopez and her characters. Their sincere affection for these women, both the actors and characters, is the quality that helps to drive the piece through some of the minor misfires. I look forward to watching them learn, improve, and grow with each of their future productions.
Confessions of Women from East L.A. is a project that has some bumps in terms of staging and performance, but what is undeniable about the production is that the idea of the piece is passionately carried out by all the members of Los Actores. The company slept dormant for a few years and now it has awoken. A sleeping giant may have arisen as future productions grow stronger and the company gets back on its feet. The company and all the performers should be proud and the community should support this brave endeavor because the most powerful image of the show arrives during the curtain call when eight Latinas take their bow after giving us their confessions. These women who are incomplete when isolated are galvanized and powerful together. The call of Valentina is present before our very eyes.
Confessions of Women from East L.A.
by Josefina Lopez
Directed by Cecilia Brooke Cholka and Joanna Lopez.
January 8th and 9th, 2010 7:30pm
Theater at the Chamizal National Memorial
Parental discretion advised.
Tickets are available online through PayPal at www.losactores.org and at the door, starting at 6:30 pm on performance evenings.
$8.00 for adults
$6.00 for seniors 65 and older and full-time students
$5.00 for groups of 10 or more. This price is only available online or by making a reservation at least 48 hours in advance either by phone to 915/240-6128 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.