The first International Latino Theater Festival of Los Angeles (FITLA en espa?ol) opened its program last weekend at the beautiful Japan America Theater. The opening night play by the Los Angeles Theater group Sinergia Theatre, "Frida Kahlo", was performed in front of a full house at the wonderfully situated theater in Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles.
The long overdue festival brings United States and international Latino theater groups from throughout Latin America to perform during this 10-day celebration of Latino theater. The festival is playing at the Japan America Theater, the Frida Kahlo Theatre, the Bilingual Foundation for the Arts and the National Comedy Theater. More information can be found at http://www.fitla.org
"Cantinflas", a play by Culture Clash member Herbert Sig?enza, was on the bill last Saturday night at the Japan America Theatre. The homage to the great Mexican comic Mario Moreno is a straightforward summation of the comic?s journey in becoming Mexico?s most popular comedian. Sig?enza immerses himself in the role of Cantinflas as he performs the characteristic tics and mannerisms with uncanny likeness. Audience members delighted in seeing El Peladito come alive in the performance.
The play/performance is a simple recounting of the highlights of Moreno?s life. The work?s central and recurring scene centers on an aged Moreno being interviewed in his home by a fawning young reporter (Amara Tabor Smith) who doesn?t speak Spanish (a narrative element inserted for the benefit of those in the audience who are linguistically impaired). The question-answer format of this central scene initiates other scenes as Moreno?s memories. These memories function as highlights of the life of Moreno: Moreno?s first performance, his stardom in Mexican cinema, his marriage, his recognition worldwide etc.
As homage, this play succeeds in introducing the life of Moreno and his celebrated character, Cantinflas. Yet, at times the play loses its momentum in its repeated structure of interview-memory. Somewhere in the middle of the play the performance sputtered and I was left to wonder whether what had been set aside in the earnest celebration of this great Mexican entertainer was a certain artistic risk. What I mean is that perhaps Sig?enza was so intent on giving voice to the charismatic Moreno, that in doing so he lost sight of his own artistic voice.
Mario Moreno is not very well known here in the U.S. and perhaps it is with this in mind that Sig?enza decided on a performance that toed the official story line.
Sig?enza and his comedy partners in crime, Ric Salinas and Richard Montoya, have made a career of satirizing official stories for 18 years. To see firsthand what I am referring to, be sure to watch Culture Clash perform Sunday this weekend as the Latino Theater Festival continues.