Collaboration stands out as the keyword for the most successful Latinx productions of 2018. Hopefully it will continue into the future, as the most interesting works seem to be coming out of the collaboration trend.
Of the 14 DFW productions I reviewed in 2018 by North Texas Latinx artists and producers, hands down the brightest of the highlights goes to Where Earth Meets the Sky, a collectively devised, collaborative piece by three women of color: Ariana Cook, Vanessa Mercado-Taylor, and Edyka Chilomé. Incubated, nurtured and produced by Cara Mía Theatre Co. (with CMTC company members) and presented at the Latino Cultural Center, this piece stands out as a singularly original work on two counts: the imaginative creation of a future that does not follow Hollywood-type dystopic themes, and the collective process by which the piece came to life. Time-consuming, to say the least: devising this piece not only among the three co-writers, but also with the collaboration of the actors, from conception to final product, took several years.
What I love about Where Earth Meets the Sky is the singularity of thoughtfulness and depth by which these self-identified (some non-binary) women of color processed their own internal colonization thus challenging themselves to recognize and rethink what and how they were constructing this piece. Some of these are: the relationship between men, greed, military and economic power that affects the earth’s balanced ecosystem; the way in which racism plays into not only interpersonal relationships but to historic (and contemporary) colonization; and, the way in which a woman-centered ecology and system of shared governance offers viable alternatives. It also leaves important questions unanswered, thus allowing the audience to think out possible subsequent scenarios.
I also loved the fact that, for me personally, this piece led me to read novels by one of the first African-American science fiction writers, the great Octavia E. Butler, and other sci-fi works by U.S.-based women of color. The wide scope of the imagined futures by these women offers alternatives that are both ingenious and often positive. I am now hooked on Latinx and African-American science fiction in theater and narrative. This amounts to a new field of exploration for me, and all of it due to this one play. The co-authors and I collaborated on a piece for the theater journal, TheatreForum, out in January 2019. I thirst for more works that push past the “well-made play themes” and reach out beyond the expected. I loved the self-assertion of this piece and all involved in its production. No need to ask permission to come to the table—women of color are already there.
Fledgling Latinx outfit Calavera Theatre Company asked tough questions with Cassandra Medley's relevant one-act, Cell, presented at the Bath House Cultural Center. This production also underscored the relevance of collaboration between an African- American playwright (Medley) and a Latina company. The company and the play, both under the direction of Chicago transplant Summer Coronado, asked the audience to examine the type of opportunities offered to Latina women on poverty row who work on the Mexico-Texas border. It examined the lives of three female family members whose bread and butter depends upon working in a privately owned detention camp. We look forward to more relevant works by this new Latinx theater company in Dallas and the wonderful acting by both veteran and novice actors.
A modest production, Teatro Dallas’ collaboration with Chicano playwright Carlos Morton at an Oak Cliff taquería, Little Mexico: Ayer y Hoy (yesterday and today) delved into the urban history of what was known as Little Mexico between 1919 and the 1960’s and has since been gentrified as Uptown Dallas. Performed in the rapidly changing community of Oak Cliff, the geo-placement of this piece highlighted the importance of fostering community memories. Taking theater to the community harkens back to the 1960’s roots of Chicano theater in the Southwest. Also echoing early Chicano slapstick, rasquachi (low brow) humor of the early carpas (tent shows), this composite of sketches drew upon the talent of the cast as comics, musicians and physical actors. It was great having homestyle Mexican food while enjoying the show with other community members! Sorany Gutiérrez is beginning to flex her directorial muscles with TD. We are looking forward to seeing her talent blossom in the coming years.
Teatro Dallas’ 18th International Theater Festival did not disappoint in 2018. In fact, it was one of the luminaries of the season. Cora Cardona invited two guest artists, Else Marie Laukvik and Frans Winther, from the famed Danish company, the Odin Teatret. A rare treat, the Odin was founded in 1979 by the Italian actor/director and anthropological theater innovator, Eugenio Barba. This company devises works collectively and individually, and their influence upon Latin American theater in the 20th century cannot be underestimated. The piece they brought to the festival, Memoria, was created 27 years ago by Eugenio Barba, left unproduced for 20 years and then revived seven years ago. The main stage of the Latino Cultural Center was transformed into a small space of 40 seats, thereby making this an intimate chamber piece. Else Marie Laukvik, accompanied musically by Winther, performed a series of vignettes inspired by the American pioneer of Jewish studies, Yaffa Eliach (founder of The Center for Holocaust Studies in New York) in her book Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust (1982) based on 89 tales adapted from thousands of Eliach’s students’ papers (all descendants of the Holocaust survivors) at Brooklyn College from 1974 to 1981. The marvel of this piece was two-fold. The narrative structure begins in a straightforward chronological order while progressively deconstructing the surety of memory in the second half. Laukvik, now in her 70s and an original company member of the Odin, casts her spell upon the audience with her refined craft of over 50 years on stage. Magical indeed.
Also part of the Festival, Los Escultores del Aire (Sculptors of the Air) from Barcelona, presented The Legend of the Faun and The Journey, each a one-man piece. This stunningly beautiful work draws from the physical and creative mastery of Mai Rojas, formerly with Cirque du Soleil, and originally from Costa Rica. Bravo to Teatro Dallas for its continued vision and for bringing such international talent to the Dallas area. While Cora Cardona announced her retirement in 2018, she is still organizing TD’s international theater festival. We wish Sara Cardona much success as Teatro Dallas’ new executive director.
On the lighter side of the spectrum, Cara Mía Theatre and Prism Movement Theater found an uproarious recipe for laughter in Gog and Magog: Two Clowns Trapped in Hell. Written by Jeff Colangelo and Hope Endrenyi and directed by Colangelo, co-produced by Lozano’s Cara Mía Theatre Co. and Colangelo’s Prism Movement Theater, this once again proved the power of collaboration to amass talent in order to bring forth something fresh and outside of comfort zones. For Lozano, this piece brought out an inherent talent for making people laugh (the flip side of his serious and driven personae as theatre director and community arts leader). For Frida Espinosa Müller, it was pure joy to see her show off her physical theatre training in clowning. Without a doubt, physical comedy is a strong point for this theatre power couple, who have been collaborating artistically for 14 years.
Staying on the light side, Cara Mía Theatre Co.’s production of Mexican playwright Berta Hiriart’s play, Tina’s Journey, returned to Dallas after a seven-year absence. This show benefited from a longstanding international collaboration between México City’s Laboratorio de las Máscara (Mask Laboratory), Alicia Martínez Álvarez (director and production designer) and Cara Mía. This is a beautiful play, staged with refined simplicity. The acting, masks, and lighting design made this a magical experience of a journey by young Tina, who wants to honor her deceased relatives during the Mexican Days of the Dead, while relocating north of the border. This play for young audiences satisfied more mature audiences as well.
Another play for young audiences, Yana Wana’s Legend of the Bluebonnet addressed a shortage of potable water in a small south Texas town outside of Laredo, as Maria, the protagonist, takes on city hall to remedy this unfair situation. There are a number of important social issues addressed by this play, which is co-written by Roxanne Schroeder-Arce and Maria F. Rocha, directed by Robyn Flatt, with dramaturgy by David Lozano and co-produced by Dallas Children’s Theater and Cara Mía Theatre Co.
Also proving the power of cross-pollination, WaterTower Theatre’s production of Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue carried several badges of distinction: it was the regional premiere of Quiara Alegría Hudes’ play (a runner-up for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama) and the first play with an all-Latinx cast produced by WaterTower. It was the second play at this Addison theater directed by Cara Mía’s David Lozano; last year he directed Karen Zacarías’ much-produced comedy Native Gardens to great success. This dark and complex piece draws upon two generations of Latino war veterans woven together as a fugue (a contrapuntal compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject or theme). Enigmatic stage design and lighting added to the merit of this production.
Cara Mía Theatre Co. and Ignite/Arts Dallas sponsored the first national tour of Los Angeles-based solo artist, Alex Alpharaoh’s award-winning solo show WET: A DACAmented Journey, performed at Theatre Three’s Theatre Too! Lozano and company saw it during the 2017 Los Angeles Theatre Center’s production of the Encuentro de las Américas Festival (Encounter of the Americas Festival), a four week-long event wherein plays by Latin American and Latinx companies were featured. Directed by Brisa Areli Muñoz, Alpharaoh was awarded the 2018 Best Solo Performance by the L.A. Drama Critics Circle. The show winds through its 90 minutes quickly and smoothly. The structure of the personal narrative flowed through so many characters that one feels the fullness of the experience through a polyphony of voices. His physical gestures have a subtle quality to them, one which parallels the lyrical voice of the artist. What I loved about this piece is the balanced combination of a strong political message encased within a beautiful and poetic narrative structure cleanly delivered by precise acting and directing.
In conclusion and keeping with the theme of collaboration, there were two personal experiences which I prize for 2018. One was the invitation by TheaterJones editor Mark Lowry to collectively review with him and Jin-Ya Huang an original piece entitled Dirty Turk, aka Dirty Immigrant, the first full production from the new organization called Artstillery and performed in a small warehouse on Fort Worth Avenue in West Dallas. Huang and I were invited due to our personal experiences and perspectives as immigrants. Huang is a local visual artist, designer and activist who founded the group Break Bread, Break Borders, which uses the concept of social food justice and works with refugees relocated to North Texas. At the time she was advising a group of Syrian refugee woman who have started a catering business. I came to the U.S. as a child Cuban refugee. My first experiences in this country were those whose papers were stamped as REFUGEE. This collectively devised piece represented a variety of cultural heritages, including Mexican, Bangladeshi, Turkish, Russian, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Persian, German and Korean. One is a DACA recipient. Another performer is non-binary. The talented ten-year-old Ava Whatley is of Vietnamese and Czech descent and has been a student at Dallas Children’s Theater for five years. We all came to the conclusion that this piece represents a beautiful diversity we’d love to see more of on and behind DFW stages.
The second of my prized experiences was attending for the first time the American Theater Critics Association conference in New York City. Mark Lowry served as liaison between the ATCA Diversity and Inclusion Committee (led by Atlanta writer and editor Kelundra Smith and New York critic and dramaturg Martha Steketee) and Viviana Vargas, as a member of the Latinx Theater Commons, and me as a member of both the LTC and ATCA. It was inspiring to see the openness of an established institution such as ATCA open up to the need of generating connections and opportunities between and across diverse generations for the purpose of expanding the cadre of theater critics. The days of the white, all-powerful male critic are dwindling. Writers like American Theatre magazine’s Diep Tran, New York-based José Solís, and the Houston Chronicle’s Wei-Huan Chen have blown the field wide open with what a culturally sensitive critic can bring to the table, and we are looking forward to more trailblazing in the field of performance criticism.
I am personally looking forward to fresh collaborations among a diversity of cultures in the Dallas area. Of personal interest, other than seeing more imaginative works on stage is witnessing more works by gender non-conforming people and the differently abled. I want to see actors and theater artists from varied experiences, backgrounds, gender identities and physical and neurodivergent abilities on stage, and I want them integrated into the play and not as some sort of side dish. Dallas, you can do this, right? Blow us away in 2019!
» Teresa Marrero is Professor of Latin American and Latinx Theater in the Spanish Department at the University of North Texas. She is a member of the American Association of Theater Critics and is on the advisory board of the Latinx Theater Commons. She is also a playwright and has a Spanish-language play entitled La Familia, which premiered in 2009 in Dallas with the collaboration Cambalache Teatro en Español, with Beatriz Mariel as director. The play was selected for publication in the 2019 anthology entitled Teatro Latino (La Casita Grande Press). She is also the co-editor with Chantal Rodriguez and Trevor Boffone of the anthology entitled Encuentro: Latinx Theater and Performance for the New American Theater (2019, Northwestern University Press). She is constantly grateful for the privilege of being involved in the performing arts.
2018 YEAR IN REVIEW
Friday, December 28
- The Year in Comedy by Chief Comedy Critic Kevin Beane
- Danielle Georgiou's Sixth Position: A Year of Movement
Saturday, December 29
- The Year in Dance by Chief Dance Critic Cheryl Callon
- The Year in New Dance Works by Katie Dravenstott
- The Year in Dance by Emily Sese
Sunday, December 30
- The Year in Music and Opera by Chief Music and Opera Critic Gregory Sullivan Isaacs
- The Year in Music and Opera by J. Robin Coffelt
- The Year in Music and Opera by Wayne Lee Gay
Monday, December 31
- The Year in Performing Arts Books by Cathy Ritchie
- The Year in Classical Music Recordings by Andrew Anderson
Tuesday, January 1
Wednesday, January 2
- The Year in Theater by Martha Heimberg
- The Year in Theater by Jan Farrington
- The Year in Theater by Janice L. Franklin
- The Year in Theater by Frank Garrett
- The Year in Theater by Jill Sweeney
- The Year in Latinx Theater by Teresa Marrero
Thursday, January 3
- A challenge for our readers
- The Year in Theater by Mark Lowry
Friday, January 4
- The Year in Performing Arts News by Mark Lowry
- Looking ahead to 2019