LEARN TO BE LATINA
Ron Laster, PrintResults
Learn to Be Latina (Milagro Theatre)
Learn to Be Latina has a little something for everyone. A Missy Elliott dance routine featuring a backflip that transitions into twerking. A muff-eating puppet. AIDS jokes. The Macarena. A tender lesbian love story. A Twin Towers pantomime.
Subtle this is not. But it’s precisely this balls-to-the-wall (including some literal balls, to the walls of a restroom stall) offensiveness that makes Enrique Urueta’s comedy work. Brassy and boisterous with plenty of bombass dance sequences, Learn to be Latina follows an aspiring young pop star named Hanan (Nicole Accuardi) who’s told by the record label that she’s “the wrong kind of brown.” She might be sexy, but in a “shawarma-eating, suicide-bomber kind of way.” So the Lebanese-American Hanan enters identity boot camp to refashion herself as a booty-swiveling, leopard print-wearing, “arriba!”-whooping Latina diva.
Urueta, who gained national attention for this play, is a brilliantly snappy writer of button-pushing dialogue and killer one-liners: “Identity is as negligible and negotiable as a back-end hooker,” quips “ethnic consultant” Mary O’Malley (Olga Sanchez, who also has a great turn as a tittering talk-show host). Still, Urueta trades in a few worn stereotypes, and his stabs at poignancy miss the mark. That means Hanan’s budding lesbian relationship proves neither steamy nor stirring, and the play ends with an all-too-tidy, overly earnest redemption monologue.
But these Milagro performers, under Antonio Sonera’s confident direction, are so fully committed, so completely switched-on, that the play becomes a showcase for their myriad talents. This is especially true for the trio of record-company functionaries, played with alternately militaristic precision and loose-limbed abandon by Kelly Godell, who pinches her malleable face to hilarious effect; Orion Bradshaw, who styles himself a very sassy Justin Timberlake in a “Dirty Pop” dance routine; and Matthew Kerrigan, responsible for the aforementioned backflip and a fierce “Single Ladies” solo in black leotard and stripper heels.
Within all the silliness, Urueta asks provocative questions about how we revise and edit our identities. It’s perhaps most interesting to see his play as a litmus test for what sorts of jokes still have the capacity to shock—and nevertheless prompt laughter. While some of Urueta’s lines, such as how all lesbians look like either Roseanne or Lyle Lovett, landed with a thud on opening weekend, his most transgressive jabs elicited guffaws as well as gasps, a kind of collective “Did he really go there?” By turning one of the play’s consistent questions—who’s the arbiter of appropriate behavior?—on the audience, Urueta makes his play that much more diabolical, that much more delicious.
'The Last 5 Years,' 'Learn to be Latina' open in strong productions: theater roundup (reviews)
A lot of theater opened last weekend (whew!) and our critics were busy. In case you missed any of their reviews, here's a roundup of what they thought of four plays.
Milagro's 'Learn to Be Latina' negotiates ethnicity, sexuality, identity: Theater review
Set in a multimedia, ironic, post-Obama world, the MTV-influenced “Learn to be Latina” is an upside-down theatrical grandchild of “My Fair Lady.” Currently in production at the Milagro Theatre, it unflinchingly negotiates issues of ethnicity, sexuality and identity, and it appears to be on the cutting edge of what the theater of tomorrow will look like.
In his game-changing 2008 speech about race, then-candidate Barack Obama acknowledged that even his own beloved white grandmother “on more than one occasion uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.” This not only shone a light upon the convoluted, fraught, state of racial relationships in our country, but it made it all right to discuss it honestly in the public sphere.
As in everything she does, uber-diva Olga Sanchez’s performance is charged with stage presence and charisma. As Mary, she plays Henry Higgins to Hanan’s Eliza Doolittle, except Henry Higgins never had a sock puppet who goes to the beauty salon for facials and hair weaves. Sanchez’s fans will be surprised and delighted to see this powerful dramatic actress in a comic role. She pulls it off magnificently. Kelly Godell brings both humor and pathos to Jill, a Mary-wannabe who trails her role model around with a simple white gym sock on her hand.
The interwoven plot about gayness and secrecy makes the identity theme more complex and dense, but, in my only criticism of the play, perhaps tries to pack in too much because the play’s central romantic relationship simply does not have time to develop. This also gives short shrift to the obvious abilities of Michelle Escobar as Blanca.
The doings of another gay couple (the zany Orion Bradshaw and the absurdly talented Matthew Kerrigan), are played for laughs and work especially well during a farcical, off-the-chain chase scene, part of which takes place in a couple of bathroom stalls.
The creative team behind this performance plays with layers of style. The offices of FAD are made fashionably bleak by set designer Mark Haack. The dancers (Lauren Mitchell, Sarah DeGrave, Louise Chambers, and Cari Spinnler, with choreography by Chip Sherman that folds perfectly into the madness of the play) sport outfits that are part MTV, part 1920s bathing beauty contest, and look great doing it, thanks to costumer Emily Powell Wright.
We mostly deal nowadays with difficult issues through the remove of ironic humor, as if our problems are too charged to be faced head-on. This play feeds ethnic and sexual identity stereotypes into the wood chipper and grinds them up, but the buzzing noise is initially covered by the sound of laughter. What follows as the detachment dissolves is a bit searing: there is purgation, as the anger of unfair stereotypes is released, and then there is hard reflection, as we contemplate how we have created own identities, and how we have permitted them to be created for us.
Patron Comment: Gary Corbin
Patron Comment: Tracy K.
With Oregon Humanities’ support, Milagro will provide three significant conversations that will complement the May production of Enrique Urueta’s Learn to be Latina, a raucous comedy about a talented young Lebanese American woman who's told she must pretend to be Latina and straight if she wants to succeed in the world of pop music stardom.
Identity is at the heart of everyone’s experience, affecting how we see ourselves and how others see us. Learn to be Latina: Identity Bootcamp will provide a unique opportunity to engage in conversations with artists, scholars and talent agents, who negotiate the subject of identity in different ways. Their participation, sharing personal, professional and historical experiences, will provide a rich foundation for our participants to inquire:
Identity Bootcamp will be hosted at El Centro Milagro, 525 SE Stark, Portland, on Sundays following the 2pm matinee performances (approximately 4pm). The event starts with a reception that then evolves into our conversations. Local leaders and scholars will provide an initial exploration of the topics and then the discussions will open up to audience questions and commentary and more conversation!
The questions that will launch our conversations are:
SUNDAY MAY 4th ~ Just Who Do You Think You Are?
In Learn To Be Latina, Hanan is re-invented. She changes her name, learns a little Spanish and whole new cultural framework from which to talk about herself, raising questions about the mutability of identity. Visiting playwright Enrique Urueta will lead the conversation with guest scholars about his inspiration for this work, how artists reflect identity in their works, and how true life provides examples of transformed identities. In art as in life, how is identity accepted, ascribed or re-created? How does it impact how we are treated or treat others?
SUNDAY, MAY 11 ~ Star Maker Machinery
According to the play’s record executives, Hanan is “fiercely talented” and “hot, hot, hot”. The only thing keeping her from super stardom is her ethnic identity which she must change if she wants to achieve fame and fortune. Talent agents and scholars talk about the power of the media to shape our perceptions. What does it take to become a superstar in the commercial marketplace? Is it as calculating and manipulative as the play makes it out to be? Are we, as consumers, part of the problem?
SUNDAY ~ MAY 18th ~ It's a Girl!
Mary tells Hanan, “Identity is whatever you choose to perform at any given time.” Gender identification is generally ascribed at birth but this identification may not reflect how a person feels or how they wish to be seen. Advances in science and cosmetology have made gender re-creation more achievable than ever. Scholars and drag performers will address the impact of gender mutability. What is performance identity? When we change gender appearance, how does it transform our relationship with others?
All Three Conversations Will Be Moderated By Vicente Guzman-Orozco:
May 1 to 31, 2014
Preview Thursday May 1.
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
SUNDAY MAY 4th
SUNDAY, MAY 11
SUNDAY MAY 18th
*Member of Actors Equity Association
Enrique Urueta, Playwright
Miracle Theatre Group 425 SE 6th Avenue Portland, Oregon 97214 503-236-7253
Miracle Theatre Group