If you want to begin your holiday season with joy, laughter and meaning, there are three Latino Theater Company productions that are absolute “must-sees.”
Running on an LATC stage now is “57 Chevy,” starring Ric Salinas of Culture Clash and written by Cris Franco. A simultaneous performance on another LATC stage is the “The Latina Christmas Special,” written and performed by Diana Yanez, Sandra Valls and Maria Russell and directed by Geoffrey Rivas.
Coming up next week, on Dec. 3 and 4, is the performance of the 13th Annual production of “Virgen de Guadalupe Dios Inantzin,” at the Cathedral of our Lady of Angels.
“57 Chevy” is set in the year 1964, and nine-year-old “Junior” is in crisis. His father, an “old world” Mexican, is loading up the family’s 1957 Chevy and moving from their diverse East side neighborhood to the edge of the cultural earth – to the San Fernando Valley, home of literal white bread and suburbs with all of the expected and not expected cultural shock it may bring.
This play — with one third of culture clash — is still 100 percent razor sharp and funny, and tracks the life experience of many immigrant families who work to give their kids a better life than they had, working to move up and move away from the familiar comfort and culture of Latino communities to tract homes and malls.
“The Latina Christmas Special” will bring you some hearty laughs along with touching moments as the three Latina comediennes Yanez, Valls and Russell share their Christmas memories.
While their stories have threads of similarity with family being at their center they reflect different experiences, which makes the point about the diversity of U.S. Latino communities and our uniqueness as human beings who all share crazy unique and funny dysfunctional family members.
It’s also a story about friendship, as the three women reveal their heartwarming stories with stories that we can all relate to.
While not a traditional play, the three monologues are powerful and take the audience on a ride to Miami, Sun Valley and Los Angeles that is fun and poignant and shares what it’s like for Russell — a self-proclaimed “Mexiuanian,” the daughter of a Mexican mother and a Lithuanian father, but still a native Angeleno with a bit of Valley girl.
Yanez, a first generation comedienne who grew up in Miami and — no surprise — is Cuban, shares what it’s like to have a very hot Christmas.
Valls, who is an official “Latin Diva of Comedy,” is as talented a singer, as she is a performer. She tells her story of growing up as a lesbian, receiving one doll after another at Christmas that she gifts to her younger sister, and the joy of at last receiving something on her actual Christmas list. This play is filled with fun and song and much love.
Coming up next weekend is the annual production of “La Virgen de Guadalupe Dios Inantzin,” performed annually at the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels in a play adapted from “Nican Mopohua” by Evelina Fernandez and directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela, the founders of the Latino Theater Company.
This large production is full of beauty and pageantry, with traditional Aztec dancers. The principal role of La Virgen is performed each year by mezzo soprano Suzanna Guzman and the role of Juan Diego performed by veteran actor Saul Lopez. This production is a family affair of family and close friends who have worked together for many years.
Esperanza Fernandez, the daughter of Evelina Fernandez and Jose Luis Valenzuela, is Guzman’s understudy.
The play is an important one, not only for the community but the downtown Cathedral. “La Virgen de Guadalupe” is an important symbol of faith for the Mexican/Latino community that, even non-Catholics are often Guadalupanos because of her cultural significance.
“So it’s not just about the apparition but it’s also about the conquest and the indigenous people trying to hold onto their traditions,” Fernandez said.
“We will be there as long as they’ll have us and we’ve become part of the Cathedral family,” she said. “Families line up for hours, as early as 4 p.m., for a 7:30 p.m. performance and some even make reserved signs at their homes that they bring and place on the pews.”
While the main cast members stay the same, members of the coro changes with more people participating each year. It’s always a great delight for people to see their family members in the play. Noted for being much more than a play, it’s a gathering of L.A.’s community.
“I think we’ve become a family of actors and musicians, including Aztec dancers and community, and I think it’s a bit of a spiritual gathering with all of us coming together each year,” Fernandez said.
For a complete performance schedule you can visit www.thelatc.org.