Playwright: written and performed by the Teatro Luna ensemble
At: Teatro Luna, 556 W. 18th St. (between Jefferson and Canal Sts.)
Phone: (312) 829-7552; $15
Runs through: Nov. 23
A casting call for Hispanic actresses does not necessarily mean that producers are looking for a talented female with ancestors traceable to the Iberian peninsula. Show business is, first and foremost, a business, and the ethnic characteristics of those chosen to sell its products carefully edited to reflect popular conceptions, no matter how prejudiced.
Our program is framed by sketches depicting auditions for the role of Maria, a—yawn—tough, sexy, streetwise babe from the Barrio: But one young thespian looks too 'Afrian,' declare the producers, and suggest she market herself as a Soul Sister. Another chica doesn't speak Spanish. The next speaks fluent Spanish and English, but without that cute Taco-Bell accent. A voice-over specialist can do any accent—Mexican (third generation or fresh-off-the-bus), Cuban, Puerto Rican, Brazilian, Castilian and Catalan—but lacks the requisite pulchritude. (Instructed to sound more 'spicy,' she protests, 'What am I? A taco?') As the list of rejections grow, the agents despair of finding a señorita generic enough to satisfy their clients
The Maria Chronicles also explore the cultural issues that engender such stereotypes. A fat girl recalls the cosmetic surgery forced on her by parents determined to have a 'beautiful' daughter. ('I'm the Bride Of Frankenstein,' she confesses, 'I've been cut apart and sewed back together.'). A girl with curly hair—revealing her Dominican father's African lineage—remembers the family tensions over her 'pelo malo.' There is a discussion of the image projected by Jennifer Lopez, and an ode to buttocks, complete with anthem proclaiming 'Nalgonas Unidas.'
All this and more zip past us at dizzying speed. Though most of the text is performed in English, playgoers unversed in Spanish may miss some of the best lines (certainly a proverb like 'Lo que traga el mulo, sale del culo'—'What the mule eats, he shits'—loses its wry humor and earthy wisdom in translation). But homage to pioneers like Carmen Miranda and Delores Del Rio, crossovers like Rita Hayworth and Lynda Carter—indeed, all of the 'Chitas and Ritas' contributing to our image of The Latina—is long past due, and Teatro Luna's lofty goal is to rectify that oversight.