Award-winning Latino Playwright Coming to SoCal

Controversial play "Miss Lebron" arrives in Orange County on September 4, 2009

By J. Mason
Published on LatinoLA: September 1, 2009

Award-winning Latino Playwright Coming to SoCal

When playwright Ren?® Solivan received a Latino Theatre Initiative Commission in 2001 from the Mark Taper Forum for his play Miss Lebron, he looked forward to a speedy production. Eight years and dozens of readings later, Miss Lebron will finally premiere on September 4 at the Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble in Santa Ana. Based on true events, the play explores the life of Puerto Rican Nationalist Lolita Lebron who in 1954 along with three men entered the U.S. House of Representatives and sprayed gunfire in order to call attention to Puerto Rico's struggle for independence.

Solivan believes the timing is perfect for his controversial play. "Especially now that the Senate has confirmed Sonia Sotomayor to the Superior Court," he says. Like Solivan, Puerto Rican Sotomayor was born in the Bronx. Sotomayor's 1976 Princeton senior thesis focused on former Puerto Rico governor Luis Mu??oz Marin who is a prominent character (played by Juan Ramirez) in Miss Lebron. In the thesis, Sotomayor, like Lolita Lebron (played by Linda Garcia), favored independence for the Caribbean island. "I do not disclaim in this thesis," Sotomayor wrote, "that I do not reflect my own bias toward independence for Puerto Rico."

In a 2002 interview for Subtext magazine, Luis Alfaro, former co-artistic director of the Taper's now defunct Latino Theatre Initiative said, "[Miss Lebron] resonated with me because of the potency of the subject matter. I found it incredibly refreshing in terms of how [Solivan] looks at living history."

Solivan submitted Miss Lebron to theatres across the country who found the play too provocative especially after 9/11. "Theatres at the time were still getting grants from the government," Solivan recalls. "To produce a play that featured an attack against the very government you are seeking funding from was a no-no."

Solivan put the play aside and kept himself busy. He was nominated by Seattle Repertory Theatre (1990 Tony Award Winner, Outstanding Regional Theatre) for the 2004 Mentor Project at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City, won a 2005 MetLife National Playwriting Award, acquired a B.A. in English from CSUN, and has had plays produced and/or developed at theatres on both coasts including the Obie award-winning Spanish Repertory (starring NCIS star Cote de Pablo), MET Theatre, Lee Strasberg Institute, Theatre/Theater, and Playwrights' Circle. His new play Cheat was part of Breath of Fire's 2009 New Works Festival and is currently being considered by theatres across the country including theActors Theatre of Louisville and the Second Stage Theatre in New York.

When Solivan read in O.C. Weekly that Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble was "unabashedly political, talented and eager to look under rocks most people would prefer untouched," he knew that this theatre troupe would not shy away from Miss Lebron's controversial subject matter.

"Breath of Fire is giving Latino playwrights in California a home again," Solivan says. "They are filling the void that the Latino Theatre Initiative and South Coast Repertory's Hispanic Playwrights Project left behind when those programs were discontinued." Solivan is blown away by this Santa Ana troupe's fearless undertakings. "When most Latino theatres across the country are producing revivals and classics, Breath of Fire is busy promoting new work, producing three world premieres in their 2009 season alone which is unheard of."

Miss Lebron is being directed by Jesus Reyes who is the founder and artistic director of East L.A. Rep. He has worked with various companies including Inside the Ford, San Jose Rep, and most recently at East West Players. He assisted director Lisa Peterson on Water and Power by Richard Montoya for Culture Clash and Alfaro's Electricidad, both at the Mark Taper Forum. "I'm thrilled with this production," the playwright says. "Jesus is making exciting and bold choices." For Solivan this production was well worth the wait especially now with Sotomayor's historic position in the Superior Court.

"I have read excerpts from Sotomayor's thesis," Solivan says. "Even though it was written 33 years ago, I have to wonder: Does Sotomayor still favor independence for Puerto Rico? Will she now have the power to influence the status of Puerto Rico?"

Miss Lebron would certainly cheer her on.

Miss Lebron at Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble, 310 W. 5th Street (2nd fl.), Santa Ana, CA. Reservations/Info:(714) 600-0129; www.breathoffire.org. Opens Fri, Sept. 4. Fri.-Sat., 8:00 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m (Sept. 13 & 20 only). Through September 26. Opening Night (9/4): $20 (includes h'orderves and champagne reception). General Admission: $15; Seniors/Students (w/valid ID): $10.

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