New Stage Comedy An Equal Opportunity Offender
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Aired 11/10/11 on KPBS News.
A new comedy at Diversionary Theatre is likely to offend everyone in the audience, though they’ll probably laugh along the way. Arts reporter Angela Carone finds out why “Learn to Be Latina” is so outrageous.
The subtitle of the play "Learn to be Latina" is revealing: "a post-911 race farce/lesbian romantic comedy…with dance breaks."
Why dance breaks? "Why not dance breaks," says Minneapolis-based playwright Enrique Urueta. It's a legit rebuttal. In fact, by the end of our conversation, Urueta had me convinced that every day should include dance breaks. (I'm going to take one right now....)
It turns out the dance breaks in "Learn to Be Latina" are some of the least offensive scenes in this comedy which was staged last year at Impact Theatre in Berkeley.
Amanda Cooley Davis is performing in a new staging at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. "When I read the play, I laughed a lot. When I was done, I turned to my husband and said, 'This play is vulgar, offensive, and hilarious.'"
Davis isn't the only actor who responded this way. Faeren Adams takes on the role of the villain, one of the more hammier roles in this farce.
"My jaw dropped several times as I was reading it because it’s shocking and could be offensive to some people. I love it, but I can see how people could be like, 'What the heck?!'”
Enrique Urueta has a response for those who might be offended by his play: "I mean if, if they’re offended by this, I’d turn around and ask, 'Are you, are you offended by Taco Bell commercials?'"
Urueta says HE’s offended by the way Latinos are represented in popular culture, which is what inspired him to write the play. "For me, it’s so clearly satire and so clearly a comment on how these images get constructed."
"Learn to Be Latina" is about an aspiring pop singer named Hanan, who is Lebanese. When she auditions for executives at a major record label, they insist there is no way a Middle Eastern can be a pop star in post-911 America. The solution is the crux of Urueta's satire: "So they bring in an ethnic consultant, who’s Irish, to re-package her as Latina and send her out in the world for pop stardom."
There’s also a lesbian love story, a sock puppet, a lot of vulgar comedy, and enough racial slurs to offend every ethnic group. Director Isis Saratial Misdary: "I think maybe the only thing that won’t be offended is… I mean even plants. Banana trees. If banana trees had feelings, they’re going to be offended."
Actress Amanda Cooley Davis agrees: "Everybody is skewered, there are no sacred cows in this play and that’s part of why it’s so funny."
Urueta says, "I feel like if I had written the same play as a drama, in this very heady, serious, serious way, it wouldn’t have the same effect, because then it would become didactic."
Misdary says Urueta took the right approach in using comedy to challenge the audience. "I feel like in laughter is where the most thinking can happen. It’s where people are the most open to receiving."
Urueta says humor is his way of seducing the audience - getting them to think about racial stereotypes in culture and media. "It’s like when parents grind up vegetables and hide them in meatloaf. Humor is the meatloaf to get people to eat their vegetables, so to speak."
The type of humor in "Learn to Be Latina" may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but then again, not everyone likes vegetables with their meatloaf.
"Learn to Be Latina" opens on November 19th at Diversionary Theatre. Previews begin on November 11th. It's obviously not a family affair.