Dallas — Since one of their first productions, a show called Bridges that specifically dealt with the multigenerational experiences of the LGBTQ+ community, Flexible Grey Theatre Company has been on the move. From what amounted to a hallway at the Resource Center, to a former church’s basement in Oak Cliff, to a comedy club in the Design District, the company manages to transform whatever space they’re able to procure to great effect.
It’s near impossible, however, to think of a better venue for their current production of Bridges: Multiracial Connections than the Latino Cultural Center Gallery. When you arrive, there are five empty chairs at the front of the space. Behind them is Colombian artist Ivonne Acero’s Identical, Different, a 2019 artwork that uses 72 identical miniature dress forms to cover a large part of the back wall. Each form is painted a different flesh-tone hue to mirror the variations possible within the standard shape as well as within the human form itself.
To the audience’s left are Sara Cardona’s mixed-media prints of overlapping fabrics like serapes, ponchos, and bandanas — collages of the diverse clothing available in her native Mexico. (TJ readers will also recognize Cardona as current executive director of Teatro Dallas.) To the right, a collection of rough ceramic goblets by Texas sculptor Diana Marquis. The pottery, like the other nearby art, seems to illustrate how a common form can still contain a multitude of differences. One basic design or structure opens up a field of almost overwhelming variables and possibilities—an aspect that is further exemplified by Flexible Grey’s work at this site.
The visual art is curated by Viola Delgado as part of the LCC’s Diez Latinas: A Common Thread, a multimedia exhibit that includes painting, photography, sculpture, ceramics, mosaic, prints, and mixed media by ten Latina artists. Bridges: Multiracial Connections fits perfectly within this context and helps to give voice to the themes of the exhibit.
The Bridges format is as much oral history as it is theater. It’s an ongoing series in which the group conducts interviews with members of their target audience and then remixes the responses in order to devise an entertaining and often heartwarming chorus of voices. The performers are Gaz Garcia, Theresa Kellar, Raven Lanuza-Brown, Tevia Loeser, and Nenad Vukovic. (Understudy Mark Beshai wasn’t used during the reviewed performance.) Except for maybe Garcia, who recently played Lee in Imprint Theatreworks’ Festival of Independent Theatres entry Dirty Dirty Night Squirrel, this might be the first time you see these actors’ faces. Each one wears dark jeans and an identical Flexible Grey shirt. The common monochrome outfits underscore the perceptible differences of the actors inside.
Biracial actor Mindamora Rocha directs. In an episode of TeaTalks, the podcast created by Flexible Grey that runs monthly on TheaterJones, Rocha explains her own background and the ensuing difficulties in finding a good part to play: “My dad is Mexican-American and my mom was born in the Philippines. And so I look very, I guess a lot of people would say ‘ambiguous.’ […] I haven’t played a person that identifies as a part of my heritage, either Mexican or Asian, without being accented. Except once.”
Similar stories about the difficulties involved in growing up as a biracial person suffuse the 70-minute show, which begins with a veritable onslaught of overlapping voices that catalog the various multi-ethnic identities of the people interviewed. None of them purport to be 100 percent of anything. Instead, the audience is treated to the perspectives of people who are combinations of African-American and Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander, Slavic, European, Middle Eastern, and other identities.
After the initial flood of information, the structure becomes more placid, as the actors relate snippets of stories from the interviewees in a casual, conversational tone that is neither preachy nor “teachy.” Each story revolves around common themes such as family, food, holidays, language, and professions. Things get really interesting when the ethnic identities mentioned above start intersecting with other identity categories based on religion, social class, and sexuality. In many ways, the show is like a fleshed-out Ancestry.com ad on steroids.
The actors are master storytellers. In the best way, they embody the scripted words. It’s usually easy to mistake the actors as the authors of the story they’re sharing because they’re so physically and vocally invested in it. Problems with the gallery’s cavernous acoustics are mitigated by the actors’ clear enunciation delivered with steady, but unhurried, pacing.
Regardless of your own ethnic identity and background, Bridges offers a solemn glimpse of how biracial individuals are often outcast or feel “othered” in whatever ethnic contexts they find themselves in. You’ll hear how skin color can seemingly override one’s ethnic background and what life’s like for those who refuse to play the role of “the tragic [M-word].” You’ll get a sense of what it’s like to contend with relentless slurs like “Oreo” and “coconut” as well as the N-word, the S-word, and the W-word; to be called “whitewashed” by your own grandmother; and to take advantage of “white-skin privilege” while still being denied the privileges afforded to whites. You’ll get first-hand reports about feeling shame for “not being brown enough,” and about being racially profiled, and about how to deflect from the ever-present question “What are you?” Bridges’ take-away message highlights the importance of embracing the fluidity of identity while attempting to balance how that identity manifests both internally and externally.
As you make your way to the Latino Cultural Center, please remember that Live Oak continues to be closed because of the construction crane that collapsed at the beginning of June. The LCC parking lot is open, but you need to access it from Cantegral St., which runs parallel to N. Good Latimer Expressway, and intersects both Gaston and Swiss. Usually there are multiple events going on, so just follow the signs for Flexible Grey. Arrive early to enjoy the art exhibit that reinforces and intensifies the show’s message of just how much representation truly does matter.