Latino Theatre Festival (Charenton, Feast, and Las Soldaderas) by Kelly Kabialis
Charenton was the first of the three shows I attended at the Goodman Theatre. It was presented by the amazing Cuban theatre company Teatro Buendía and directed by company founder Flora Lauten. The show was in Spanish and had English subtitles; this sounds distracting, but in actuality it only furthers the fantastic culture shock.
Charenton is inspired by the life of the bizarre French aristocrat Marquis de Sade, who throughout his lifetime was in and out of mental institutions. He was famous for his blasphemy against the Catholic Church, unrestrained sexuality, erotic novels, writing in general, and for being a supporter of extreme freedom unrestrained by law or morality.
When we first meet Sade we discover he’s directing a play-within-a-play about his views on the French revolution with a cast of none other than his fellow inmates at Charenton. Each of the characters is dealing with two separate issues. The first is whatever condition for which they are at Charenton; this includes burning skin, schizophrenia, and of course, no show is complete without depression. The second is what their character in the play is coping with. This includes murder, betrayal, and politics. Each of the cast members portrays both these issues with the perfect amount of Latin flair and cultural accuracy.
I feel particularly inclined to mention Ivanesa Cabrera, whose performance as Simone brought tears to my eyes. Simone reminds us all of the reasons why we attend theater; she brings a certain spice to the stage and makes it impossible to look away. Charenton is preformed through a very unique style which allows actors to be extreme in their choices. If they are sad they are bawling their eyes out, if they are mad they are apt to kill, if they are happy they are ecstatic, and if they are scared they are screaming uncontrollably. The cast had an abundance of face make-up and outlandish costumes. Contemporary productions seem to veer away from this style because it is often too difficult to achieve, but this isn’t the case with Charenton. Sade opens the show with the question “Who says crazy people can’t act?” After seeing this phenomenal production I sure as hell don’t.
The second production I attended was Feast, a collection of short stories devised and preformed by the Albany Park Theatre Project teen ensemble. These tales are based on the food and colorful culture of Chicago’s own immigrants. We meet many common characters that come to life with stunning choreography and simplistic, yet rich writing. This diverse cast of characters includes a local butcher who has been in the same business for generations, a struggling teen who believes that just because you need help doesn’t mean you have to look like it, a hard worker with blisters on his feet and a wasted life, a young girl who looks forward to her family’s green card, and a couple who make a living by selling delicious tamales from a cart. These characters’ stories are seldom told, but now, thanks to Feast their stories take life, seemingly pumped through the veins and hearts of audience members.
Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly connect further with a character, another story would begin and my freshly-dried eyes would again moisten as I saw another part of my life acted out in front of me. Each story provides us with a life lesson, whether it be to value any work we can get, respect others’ financial situations, understand each other’s culture, or just to take a bite of life and savor it. No matter which lesson you take away, it will be one you never forget.
The main lesson that I couldn’t get over was the idea that poverty can result in the stripping of one’s innocence. I feel this was presented perfectly by one of the tales told by a young boy who had his mother shop at Jewel for the real store brands and saved up for nice jeans. His philosophy was “just because you need help doesn’t mean you have to look like it.” After hearing this I began to have a better understanding of my peers, and I thank the writers and performers for this insight. It is an idea that all people should understand, especially in today’s economy. This show helps remind us just how lucky we are to have food on the table.
The third and final show I attended was Las Soldaderas by the Aguijón Theater Company, which presents a fictional version of the lives of five women who were active participants in the Mexican Revolution. The play displays aspects of their daily lives: those great stories that fall through the cracks and never quite make it into our history books. Each of these five women provides a unique view of Mexican women in turmoil. The stories that had the deepest impact on the audience were depicted with raw emotion and that spicy attitude you can only find in a Mexican woman. For some fighting is totally their choice, like the young woman who proudly fights next to her husband and even after his death carries on the fight disguised as a man. For others it is thrust upon them, like the young woman who does not support war and loses everything but still sees the fight as God’s will. In either case the women do their part no matter what the fight does to them or their loved ones. This could not have been achieved without the impeccable talent of each young actress.
One artistic element I am still in awe of occurs during a scene in which a male journalist is interviewing the five main women. In the scene, the light above him goes out when the women are talking about something only other women can relate to. I loved the choice to cast only one man to play all the male roles. He represents the power men had over women in this time of struggle. He is simply “The Man” and even though there is nothing these women could do to change his position, they still find a way to “stick it” to him in the harshest manner possible.
Even though these three offerings come from different theater companies, they all share one common goal: to portray theater through the lens of another culture. Thanks to them the Chicagoland community feels a lot closer to Latin Culture, and I can honestly say that feels great.
These three productions will show you the cultural diversity that all theater should strive to have. They include every aspect of the culture: the food, family roles, pride, and everything in between. They help remind us why we started to attend plays in the first place: to give you that rush of adrenaline from connecting so deeply with a performance that you can’t help but cry. They show us what the Latin culture is all about, from the struggles to the spice. Whether you find the beauty from a well told story, an enlightening actor, or a beautiful song, the Latino Theatre Festival will be there to help you find it.