Dallas — In their characteristic magical combination of slipping in serious social topics within a seriously comic style of devised work, the women of Teatro Luna once again proved that the personal is political. No less can be expected from the country’s only pan-Latina theater ensemble, Chicago’s Teatro Luna, which embarked on a nation-wide developmental tour of their new work, Generation Sex. I caught up with them at the Latino Cultural Center on Friday, March 28. This is the second time that Teatro Luna has presented their work in the Dallas area and my second review of them. The other is here).
Teatro Luna presented this show with the support and collaboration of their host, Cara Mía Theater Company. Both companies are members of the national network of Latino/Latina theater companies, the Latino Theater Commons, an important initiative housed out of Emerson College in Boston.
Since Teatro Luna boasts numerous female actors within their cadre, the performers of any one segment of the vignette-style show can be performed by whoever is available at the time. Thus during the developmental tour of this show, Generation Sex, is composed of three members I had not seen before: Amanda Raquel Martínez (New York), Elizabeth Nungaray (Nicaragua), and Ally Torres (San Diego). Actor and managing director Abigail Vega (San Antonio), and executive director Alex Meda (Orlando) provided a line of constancy to the ensemble.
Meda clearly prepped the audience for the show, emphasizing that this piece is in a developmental stage, so what they were looking for was feedback. She stated that 80 percent of their work is devised with input by 28 writers. By the time of its official world premiere in Chicago, May 30-June 15, they will have performed parts of this show in one form or another in 25 cities. She added, “Most of the stuff in this show really did happen either to members of the company or by historical research.” She mentioned that the gist of Teatro Luna’s work is theater for social change. With that in mind, Meda invited the audience to be ROWDY. No rules, except that there are no rules. We were given permission to hoot, holler and shout back during the performance. I had a gentleman behind me who took that invitation seriously, vigorously offering his “Amen!” during key moments. Hey, it is great to be given permission to have contemporary theater do what it did energetically during most of its history. Shakespeare, Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca, as well as other European playwrights of the 16th and 17th centuries would have expected vocal audience participation. It was the norm.
The first segment was a mocking look at singer Robin Thicke (Abigail Vega), in a contest type situation called “#whatsyourstate.” The three female contestants (Martínez, Nungaray and Torres) got a verbal whipping and effectively were shut up with heavy pelvic thrusts and heterosexual stereotyping, the pinnacle of which was when one of them mentioned her girlfriend (as in sexual partner). This vignette was funny and Vega was unabashedly Thicke in her portrayal. I hope this is a keeper!
The party rape segment was a reenactment of how women downplay sexual abuse such as party rage, recasting it as a socially acceptable (?) “well, you asked for it.”
Alternating a heavy scene with a humorous one, the following segment presented was the seasoned “Crikey, A Vagina,” or the exploration of the female cave by three Aussies from Down Under. Hilarious by all accounts, and a crowd favorite, this piece was the only repeat from their June 2013 appearance in Dallas.
In “Menstruating/Body Fluids,” the intimate topic of menstrual blood came to light through a series of accurate observations about how us women relate to our own body fluid. A eulogy to the Diva Cup (a reusable silicone cup, worn internally to collect menstrual flow, which requires manual extraction and cleaning) separated the girls from the women generationally. Frankly, I had never heard of a Diva/Menstrual cup, having grown up in the Tampax/tampon generation. But, a quick Google search (those crafty Luna women, sending me out on a research mission after the show!) revealed that the bell-shaped cup vaginal cup was patented in 1932, by the midwifery group of McGlasson and Perkins. Apparently since the mid-1990s random studies have been conducted and women prefer the cup to the tampax or tampon by far. It is durable, safe and leaves a lesser environmental footprint. Way to go, Lunáticas! Some of us learned something!
I have in my notes “The Filthy Taoist” but nothing more; it was not memorable.
The next one, “Inez C.,” a stop-animation tale of unexpected sexual-love communion is a jewel. It speaks to all of us who spend way too much time on our heady jobs, on the computer, and online cruising of CyberLove. Without giving much away, its happy ending struck me as surprising. This lead me to wonder how conditioned we might be to expect rape, murder and ugliness from unexpected encounters. This beautifully crafted animation with a voice over is a top of the line segment.
During the talkback with the audience, we all basically agreed that the piece that requires most work is the “Romeo and Juliet/Romantic Love.” The projections in the background conflicted with the stage action, but that was not entirely the problem. The images of the women shown such as Lynette Alice "Squeaky" Fromme, a member of the Manson Family and would-be assassin of President Gerald Ford in the 1970s turned out to be quite a stretch for most of the audience. I managed to identify the images of Olivia Hussey (in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film) and Claire Danes (in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet) respectively playing Juliet. They took in the audience feedback graciously, acknowledging that the segment needs work.
The audience agreed that the data, fact-flashing informational segment on the worldwide state of women really took us back. It offered concrete information on the status of women, from wages earned according to race, to human trade of women into prostitution to the sanctioned mutilation of the female body via the clitorectomy (note: the word does not even appear in MS Word’s dictionary function!) to curb female pleasure. With this note the performance ended a bit on a down note, which may just very well be the perfect Brechtian ending to stimulate thought rather than emotions.
One comment offered was to increase the singing numbers because the actors have wonderfully rich voices, a strong point in their previous show.
» Teresa Marrero is Associate Professor of Latin American and Latino/a Theater at the department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures, University of North Texas.