Luis Valdez wrote “I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges” in 1986, when he was in the throes of a burgeoning Hollywood career, and the United Farm Workers were staging a new grape boycott entitled “Wrath of Grapes.”
The Casa 0101 Theater presents the second LA production of this play, and the first in 25 years, as a way to remind us how far we have and have not come.
The title is the well-documented and oft-repeated (in a variety of forms) line from novel-turned-film “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and is a line which resonates on several levels. It captures the marginalization of Latino actors in Hollywood, who are relegated to menial roles; it mocks the use of double-negatives, not by Latinos, per se, but by the Anglo writers who write Latinos’ lines; it satirizes the posturing of actors who show off their trophies of station, from imdb credits to Twitter followers to Emmy awards to positive reviews; and it pokes fun at the hypocrisies and ironies that reside within the American Dream. Those who claim to want it for all don’t want it for those who don’t look like them; and those who don’t require it for themselves fight hard to obtain it for their children.
The tone of the play is satire; however, with this particular production, director Hector Rodriguez could go much further. The actors, here, play their roles somewhere indistinctly between presentational shtik and realism, while a more overt choice by the director in either direction would make a much stronger statement.
To advance notions of ladder-climbing, racial-typing, ego-mongering and the donning of masks in order to participate in either, the director could place the action on a mock sit-com set (as the playwright initially suggested) addressing the audience as if it were a studio audience and having the actors play to one another in one way and to the audience in another, which would not just add meaning to the Lucy and Ricky lines, but which would also push the audience more directly to ponder the ways we put ourselves and our lives into boxes.
Or, conversely, the director could choose to address the roles with the utmost verisimilitude, showing the characters’ raw, unadulterated humanity to contrast with both their lifestyle and their lines to advance the notion that underneath the veneer, and when no one else is looking, we are all simply unadorned flesh. We are nothing more and nothing less than the same animal skins we wear on our shoulders to the Emmys and the Oscars -- animals that also deserve to be respected and not confined to the role of accessory or hemmed in by Central Valley feedlots.
Despite its lacking a stronger point of view, this production of Luis Valdez’s signature play is colorful and interesting, and Valdez’s genius is siren-blaring evident.
The themes are absolutely relevant today, although in a slightly different manner. Indeed, Latinos are still marginalized in Hollywood (as are Asians, women, the differently-abled along with a host of other classifications).
When Latinos create cinematic works of brilliance a la Peter Bratt’s “La Mission,” which stars Peter Bratt’s brother Benjamin Bratt, they don’t have distributors banging on their doors offering to help further their reach, even though the themes are universally significant; and, when Latinos are the protagonists of important American stories, as Tony Mendez was in the true story of “Argo,” they are not cast to play themselves.
So, when Luis Valdez penned “I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges,” he dug up an American (and human) truth that people were and are hierarchical and self-serving, and in ways that damage our collective psyche.
This multi-layered two-act by the prophetic Luis Valdez is the one play that first inspired Josefina López, founding artistic director of Casa 0101 and author of “Real Women Have Curves,” to become a writer. It is her hope, then, that this presentation of this iconic piece will inspire other young writers, in kind, and will serve as an opportunity for Latinos and all people, both inside Hollywood and out, to reflect on their common humanity.
“I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges” shows at the Casa 0101 Theater in Boyle Heights through March 10, 2013.