This mixed-media piece, written by Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo (who also performs along with Michael Manuel), explores in music, video, and performance the stereotypes of Mexicans and other Latin Americans that were created by Hollywood in its early years.
At the core of the story is Rosita, an aspiring movie actor weaned on the films of Dolores Del Rio, who hopes to break out of her role as an extra, playing either peasant women or low-life dancers. She goes for help to her cousin, Raoul, who is part of the dance company of The Mission Play, a popular show at the San Gabriel playhouse that fancifully portrayed the life of the early Californios (original inhabitants of California). As Rosita pursues her dream, she encounters an Anglo movie producer trying to create a nostalgic past for California as a way to sell more real estate, and an aging doyen of a Californio family intent on preserving an authentic portrayal of a dying culture.
Chavez and Portillo use film clips, music, and dance to paint a portrait of myth-making, illustrating the strange integration of tradition and mass media, of authentic culture and iconic fantasy. For the most part, the creators decry the stereotypes that emerge, pleading at the end for the re-creation of a more textured view of Mexican and Latin American culture and people.
This piece provides an interesting contrast to Electricidad, the adaptation of Electra by Luis Alfaro that recently opened at the Mark Taper Forum. In that play, Alfaro examines with delight the mutual appropriation of culture by the Chicano and Anglo communities, in which popular myth-making can be a tool of the oppressor and the oppressed. Chavez and Portillo, on the other hand, seem to view popular culture as primarily a tool of the oppressor.
The mixed-media approach to the material is quite entertaining, using accomplished dance and musical performers, as well as amusing film clips that poke fun at popular caricatures. A musical contribution by Orquesta California is outstanding; particular kudos to solo vocalist Claudia Tenorio, whose pure and haunting voice evokes the powerful undercurrent of myth.
"They Shoot Mexicans, Don't They?," presented by About Productions at the Luckman Intimate Theatre, Cal State L.A., 5151 State University Dr., L.A. Sat. 8 pm. Apr. 9 & 16. Sat. 2 p.m. Apr. 16. Sun. 2 p.m. Apr. 10. $40. (323) 343-6600.