Chicana Voices Emerge in Play
Theatrical performance give life to the nurturing spirit that grows within a community of young women
Michael V. Sedano
Last Thursday evening, June 8, brought to LatinoLA audiences the opening of a Chicana literature performance that one day will be famous.
Published on LatinoLA: June 14, 2000
Keep a sharp eye peeled for it because here is an evening of great entertainment that holds one spellbound for most of its length.
Its title, "Black Butterfly Jaguar Girl, Pinata Woman And Other Superhero Girls Like Me," has less to do with the actual content and speaks to who these children grow to become.
The show itself illustrates milestones in girls' lives, between twelve and seventeen, voicing the questions, nurturing the spirit that grows from a twelve year-old girl into a seventeen year-old woman whose clear strong voice speaks of a well-defined identity. That the characters are Chicanas adds a richness to the textures the piece achieves through language, code switching, and characterization
High energy translates into vivid motion that fills every open space on the brightly lighted set, whose central ramp spirals down into the action, or becomes a ramp upstage and off. The cast fills the incline head to toe, then at a signal dances to new positions, the four others watch and react as the fifth of their number performs a soliloquy or recital center stage, illuminated in yellow light. At the signal - a buzzer or a bell in this production - the frantic rearrangement of bodies and faces as the ensemble runs to their marks for another clever bit.
This Taper, Too production is lots more fun than the run-of-the-mill Taper main stage season profferings. "Black Butterfly" plays far better than Taper's most acclaimed "ethnic" piece, that dreadful burning of LA slide show that failed in D.C. and never made its promised return to LA. "Black Butterfly's" Chicanas touched every man and woman in the multicultural audience at the Actor's Gang, just west of Vine on Santa Monica Blvd in Hollywood.
Director Luis Alfaro put the production together, building upon the writings of Alma Cervantes, Sandra C. Munoz, and Marisela Norte. From the writing on the title slide projected on the stage floor to the episodic assembly and choral strophes, Alfaro's direction warmly recalled Ntozake Shange's "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Ain't Enuf" that graced the Taper main stage a decade or so past.
The production has reached a state of near-perfection for its audience and purpose. Launched as reader's theater at the Getty Center last year, Alfaro's cast members, working ensemble or solo, grab these poems and essays by the hair and drag them about the stage with loud proclamations of grace (the butterfly); toughness (the jaguar); tragedy (Pinata woman); and hilarity (the Superhero.)
The five women come evenly matched in beauty and talent. Certain performances, of course, stand out, especially notable opening night were the captivating Zilah Mendoza and Carla Jimenez' reading of "heaven, heaven must be" which bordered on rapturous. Unfortunately prior to this, Jimenez swallows the funniest line in the poem, "Yes, I will have some more tacos," but gets a good laugh on the follow-up, "No, I don't want to walk to the market." I found the date rape segment meaningless when the climactic line reads "which doesn't give you the right to hurt me."
Opening night, the performers and the piece required the first quarter hour to get into a groove. If Alfaro was noticing, he'll do some cutting and reorganization and prestoperfection!
This is a great piece, folks, all minor quibbles aside. "Black Butterfy" is about the words, which no description can hope to encompass. Sitting in the audience listening, laughing, crying, dancing with these five characters will teach you the words.
"Black Butterfly Jaguar Girl Pinata Woman And Other Superhero Girls Like Me"
Created and Directed by Luis Alfaro.
Based on the writings of Alma Cervantes, Sandra C. Munoz and Marisela Norte.
Michael V. Sedano:
Contact: Michael Sedano at Msedano@aol.com. or http://members.aol.com/msedano/mvs.html