Tag Archives: Latino theater

Chicano studies — with a twist

The ASU Herberger Institute School of Theatre and Film presents Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez at the Lyceum Theatre on the Tempe campus through Oct. 22

I made plans to see “Zoot Suit” at Arizona State University after learning that a young woman my daughter Jennifer went to grade school with would be performing in the play.

Kaleena Newman performs the roles of Newsboy and Zooter in the production that runs through Oct. 22 at ASU’s Lyceum Theatre. After chatting with Newman on campus one day, Jennifer decided to tag along with me to see the show.

The other lure was Andrés Alcalá, an associate artist with Childsplay who directs “Zoot Suit” for ASU’s School of Theatre and Film. I’m convinced that following the fine folks of Childsplay is the surest way to find fab theater in the Valley.

Jennifer studies cultural anthropology and has long been fascinated by events surrounding World War II. “Zoot Suit” by playwright Luis Valdez is set in 1940s Los Angeles, and it makes one point abundantly clear: As one war raged abroad, another raged at home. It was a war against racism — and it’s yet to be won.

The theme of fear fueled by prejudice and the press is still relevant today (Photo: Rod Amez as Henry Reyna)

Close to home we see it in anti-immigration legislation and calls for educators in Tucson to end a long tradition of teaching Chicano studies. In “Zoot Suit,” we witness a gross miscarriage of justice as Chicano youth are arrested and jailed for a crime they didn’t commit — in part because of fear fueled by a fashion statement.

The work reflects something every good student of WWII history knows — that prejudice against those of Japanese, Jewish or African American heritage was also rampant. Be forewarned, if you take younger family members to see “Zoot Suit,” that they’ll hear not only plenty of cursing but also a single use of the “N-word.”

The Broadway production of “Zoot Suit” ran for just 41 performances in 1979. Edward James Olmos, Dexter’s newest nemesis on the Showtime television series, performed the role of narrator El Pachuco on both stage and screen. The 1982 film version of “Zoot Suit” featured Tyne Daly, seen recently in “Master Class” on Broadway, as activist Alice Bloomfield.

ASU’s production of “Zoot Suit” features Nathan Delatorre as El Pachuco and Rod Amez as Henry Reyna, a young man accused of murder the night before he’s set to report for military duty. The cast of 21 delivers a strong ensemble performance that’s powerful evidence of the university’s stellar theater program.

Every element of this production is strong — especially direction by Andrés Alcalá, choreography by Adrian Hernandez, scenic design by Alayne Levine, costume design by Connie Furr-Soloman and lighting design by Anthony Jannuzzi. Infusing masterful media design by Boyd Branch transforms the production into something truly exceptional and rare.

“Zoot Suit” feels a bit like “West Side Story” — minus the vocal numbers, plus a heavy dose of politics. It’s an entertaining work of social justice theater, but its dialogue too often spoon-feeds the audience. Of course, a spoon would have come in handy after the show as Jennifer treated me to gloriously gooey pretzels from Mellow Mushroom on Mill Avenue.

I’ve long enjoyed outings to ASU Gammage for touring Broadway productions with my youngest daughter Lizabeth, often followed by In–N-Out Burger runs. But having Jennifer join me for an ASU theater production followed by pretzels dripping in honey made for an exciting new twist.

– Lynn

Note: “Zoot Suit,” which opens the 2011-12 Arizona Centennial Season for ASU’s MainStage productions, is part of the CALA Festival. Click here to learn about additional MainStage offerings, and here for more information on the festival. Click here to explore New Carpa Theater, which “focuses on Latino and multicultural theater works.”

Coming up: Going green on Broadway, Dora explores downtown Phoenix

Theater for grown-ups

Stray Cat Theatre. Nearly Naked Theatre. Folks offering mostly mature-theme works are hoping you’ll book the babysitter and experience some of their upcoming “theater for grown-ups” fare.

I’m as big a fan of “Jungle Book” and “Peter Pan” as the next person, but sometimes a change of scenery is in order. So here’s a sampling of some of your options…

The Great Arizona Puppet Theater presents adult puppet slams several times a year for the age 18 & up set. I’ve never been, but I’m told it draws a good crowd — and I’m eager to join the fun. Their next adult slam takes place at 8pm on Fri, Dec 3 and Sat, Dec 4.

Scene from New Carpa's American Pastorela by playwright James E. Garcia

New Carpa Theater, a company founded in 2006 that specializes in “Latino and multicultural theater works,” presents their latest production Dec 4-19 at the Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center in downtown Phoenix (near Symphony Hall).

“American Pastorela: Show Us Your Papers!” is an unabashedly political play written by James Garcia and directed by Arturo Martinez — who certainly have a lot to add to the Arizona dialogue.

Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe presents “Learn to be Latina” Dec 3-18. It’s written by Enrique Urueta and directed by Ron May — and features the tale of a Lebanese woman told she must feign being Latina to achieve pop singer stardom.

Enjoy a talkback with playwright Enrique Urueta after the 2pm performance on Sun, Dec 5

Both May and Urueta will join the audience for a talk-back session following the 2pm performance on Sun, Dec 5. It should prove an interesting discussion of various issues related to self-identity.

For grown-ups who aren’t particularly fond of holidays or musicals, Space 55 in Phoenix presents “A Bloody Mary Christmas” Dec 3-18 (all Fri/Sat eve shows). Reduced ticket price available with canned food item donation to St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance.

And now for the naked part. Nearly Naked Theatre, which performs at Phoenix Theatre’s Little Theatre, presents an Arizona premiere titled “Devil Boys From Beyond” Jan 8-29.

It’s written by Buddy Thomas and Kenneth Elliott, with direction by Toby Yatso. Think campy space-invader movie from the ’50s or ’60s. This baby won the 2009 award for overall excellence for outstanding play at the 2009 New York Fringe Festival. (Maybe for this one someone will actually wear fringe?)

N2N presents a full season of Arizona premieres for 2010-2011, including Devil Boys From Beyond

If alternative theater is your vibe, save the dates April 1-10, 2011 — when the 2011 Phoenix Fringe Festival takes place. Just get a sitter and a room for this one people. It makes for a great weekend “staycation.”

With any luck at all, the sitter will simply assume that you’ve developed a quaint fascination with fabric arts.

– Lynn

Note: Other theater companies with offerings enjoyed by adult (and sometimes younger) audiences include Actors Theatre, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, Arizona Theatre Company, Black Theatre Troupe, and Phoenix Theatre.

Coming up: Traveling tribe comes to ASU Gammage, Southwest Shakespeare Company presents “Twelfth Night,” Family-friendy theater options, Art venues and holiday shopping

Weekend of new beginnings

Center Dance Ensemble performs "The Snow Queen" (Photo: Tim Fuller)

I’ve been enjoying Center Dance Ensemble works for more than a decade. If dance companies were shoes, they’d be a cross between my favorite well-worn pair and my shiniest new pair. Both make me smile.

For years they’ve treated Valley audiences to Frances Cohen Smith’s “The Snow Queen” at the Herberger Theater Center. It’s based on a delightful Hans Christian Andersen tale and has terrific appeal to both children and adults.

But this weekend, you can enjoy a performance titled “New Beginnings.” It features the premiere of a new work by Center Dance Ensemble as well as new performances by several guest artists.

It’s being held through Sat, Oct 16 at the newly-renovated Herberger Theater Center, so those of you who’ve been waiting for an excuse to check it out now have one (actually, there are several).

Center Dance Ensemble performs New Beginnings this weekend (Photo: Tim Fuller)

Other weekend happenings in the Valley (and yes, weekends start on Friday for stage moms) include the following:

Goof & Giggle. Fri, Oct 15 at 10am. Children’s Museum of Phoenix. Features a fun class for 1-3 year olds with parents/caregivers. Activities include dance, song, exploring musical instruments and movement.

Tot Art. Fri, Oct 15 at 10:30am. Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa. Features artmaking for 2-5 year olds with parents/caregivers. Activities include painting, sculpture and collage.

Artful Tales. Fri, Oct 15 at 11am. Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa. Features an interactive storytime followed by art activities based on the theme of the featured book.

Comprised Voices. Sun, Oct 17 at 4pm. Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Features symphonic music by Musica Nova.

International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival. Madcap Theaters in Tempe. Through Sun, Oct 17. Features indie, retro and other horror and science fiction titles in this 6th annual event. (It’s not for the kiddos, but parents enjoy the arts too.)

ASU presents 26 Miles this weekend

26 Miles. Lyceum Theatre at ASU in Tempe. Through Sun, Oct 17. Features a coming-of-age “dramedy” about a Cuban American teen who explores her identity while on a road trip with her estranged mother. Playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes wrote the book for the Broadway musical “In The Heights.” (One for parents to enjoy with their older teens, perhaps?)

Cars and Guitars. Through Sat, Oct 16. Tempe Center for the Arts. Features exhibit of some mighty fancy guitars, cars and cool retro finds (including old storybook art). I had a great time exploring this one the day I saw Childsplay’s “A Year With Frog and Toad” at the same venue. (The cars/guitars exhibit makes a cool father/son outing.)

This weekend is your last chance to see this new work by James E. Garcia

The Eagle & The Serpent: A History of Mexico Abridged. Through Sun, Oct 17. Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center in Phoenix. Features New Carpa Theater Company presenting seven actors in 50 roles recreating the history of Mexico from 30,000 B.C. to the present “in 90 minutes or less.”

Romantic Fools. Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Through Sun, Oct 17. Features vaudeville-style comedy “examining love, lust, dating, and romance.” (Also for grown-ups only due to mature content.)

Watch for a second post Friday featuring weekend (and upcoming) theater by youth and for youth.

Ridiculous rulers. Bumbling bears. Colorful cupcakes. They’ve got it all.

–Lynn

Note: Please check details for all events before attending since prices vary, tickets may have limited availability and such.

Coming up: Making art in Mesa, Stage moms changing the world, Playwriting perspectives