Chicago’s pan-Latina theater group Teatro Luna unleashed their creative juices upon Dallas audiences last weekend, and we are all the better for it. How can I explain?
Free association comes to mind: freedom, experimentation, energy, deeply personal, politically sophisticated, talented, fun, and on the road. Imagine a cross between a dinner menu, hip-hop sampling and tango dancing. Yes, hip-hop and tango, although neither was in Luna Unlaced, which was performed at Teatro Dallas. However, there were musical numbers that are witty, dark and beautifully sung.
The dinner menu part is easy. Each audience member was given a Menu Card which stated: “Welcome to Teatro Luna’s ‘choose your own adventure’ play! At three different times throughout the performance, you will be asked to select the scenes that look tastiest to you. Choose wisely—these scenes have been pulled from six different plays to anything can happen!” The menu is coded: An asterisk denotes adult content and a carat denotes a musical number. The audience members are therefore able to select the thematic content and level of spiciness (adult content) of the evening’s show, so don’t blame them for the audience’s (possibly) naughty preferences!
From hip-hop, the concept of sampling plays a hand. These women sample from their own, original musical and theatrical works. The tango part is more elusive. Tango magic happens when those involved in the physical or metaphoric dance are connected in such a way that any and all improvisation, to onlookers, appears natural, even choreographed. Such is the level of flow. While there is no physical dancing of any kind in Luna Unlaced, the metaphor applies to the deep connection to their work and to each other as performers.
The evening began with a selection by director Alexandra Mena with the acting and singing talent of Amanda de la Guardia, Maya Malan-Gonzalez and Abigail Vega, who are the company members travelling on tour this summer.
The show I attended began with director Mena’s selection of four acts: “Hollywood Latinas,” “Besos de Fuego” “Placenta” and “My Country” a brilliant line-up showcasing both the sophistication of cultural criticism, laced with a huge dollop of humor, poetic rhyme and song. To give you a little taste of their opening number, Maya Malan-Gonzalez began with the hairy lament. Here are some lyrics from “Hollywood Latinas, NOT YOUR GENERIC LATINA (Shattering Stereotypes)” [all lyrics below provided by Teatro Luna, and are copyrighted]:
I have a little problem, that sometimes makes me sulk/I have to shave so often, that I buy razor blades in bulk/I have tried everything, from electrolysis to Nair/there is just not enough wax on the planet, to combat my body hair/…I’ll be bare from here to there, just like Shakira or Cristina/Yes, I will be silky smooth, just like…/A Hollywood Latina!...
Snap your fingers to this sexy melody, here comes the lament of the white-skinned Latina (Abigail Vega):
There is a reason why Teatro Luna prohibits flash photography/Coz I will literally glow, if you take a picture of me/I will never look like J. Lo, with my skin as white as snow/…I want that golden glimmer, just like Salma or Selena/I will be beautiful and bronzed/ Just like a Hollywood Latina/a Hollywood Latina/Penelope Cruz, Sofia Vergara/A Hollywood Latina/Eva Longoria/A Hollywood Latina/Rita Moreno [oh a good one! I love her!]/I’ll do anything to look like a Hollywood Latina, a Hollywood Latina...
This song ends with the lament of the curly haired Latina (Amanda de la Guardia):
My hair will not wave!/I swear, it never behaves/I’ve got too much curl/to be a silver-screen Latina girl!/A Hollywood Latina!/…
We’ve all been there, right? Not poster-beautiful enough, not curvy enough or too curvy, not white enough in some contexts while too white in others, and then there is the hair…too straight means you are part india (indigenous), too curly indicates a suspect abuelita/grandmother. There is a saying in Latin culture that asks, ¿Quién es tu abuela? Who is your grandmother? The rhetorical question points to the racial miscegenation that took place since the Spanish conquest, first with Indigenous America and later with the import of the black slave trade. ¿Quién es tu abuela? reminds us Latinos that we all have a racial skeleton on our genealogical closet. So with this clever bit of social observation our evening of delight began.
Rather than offer a rundown of each and every act, most of which lasted anywhere from three to five minutes, I will focus on the ones that spoke to me most closely. The “Airport Burlesque,” listed in the menu under “CROSSED (Race, Immigration, and Borders),” will surely tickle any frequent flyer, regardless of cultural background. Here is an excerpt from this musical number:
Please be sure to remove shoes…brassieres or any other piece of clothing that may conceal weapons of mass destruction/Seal the border, step aside/…/Raise the threat level to orange/STOP [salsa rhumba beat]/Take off your panties and your pride, take off your shirt/Take off your privacy…/Take off your skirt/…You might just miss another flight, but it could be worse…
From pat-downs and airport burlesques (so true!) to explorations down under, this show kept us splitting a stitch. “Crikey, A Vagina,” complete with an Aussie accent, has two ‘male’ explorers (played by women, of course) fully equipped with flashlights to reveal the secrets of the age-old secrets of the female cave. Oh what a surprise they got from pocking here and there, “Crikey, A Vagina” gave these fellows an unpredictable squirt in the eye. By jove, they didn’t know women could do that!
On a more serious note, other acts dealt with issues of spousal abuse, of racism within our own Latino communities, and youthful exploration into their own sexualities. On being brought up strict Catholic rang my chimes “With Mary in All Things,” referring to the ever present Virgin (be she a Madonna expression, or a miraculous one such as the Virgen de Guadalupe). Mary/Maria is ubiquitous in Latin cultures.
There was not a minute wasted; not a moment in which I perceived the audience being alienated or bored. The use of humor in the form of satire efficiently worked its magic. Slightly campy, sometimes serious, always deployed with meticulous timing, professionalism and talent, Luna Unlaced is a show with staying power, be it through images, or through sing-song stanzas. Remember “Take off your panties and your pride, take off your shirt/Take off your privacy…/Take off your skirt” the next time you are passing through DFW Airport security. “You might just miss another flight, but it could be worse!”
Teatro Luna. Do come back to Dallas, Texas. We’ll be ready for you next time, hermanas.
◊ Teresa Marrero is Associate Professor of Latin American and Latino Theater at the University of North Texas.