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Behind The Scenes: ‘Logan Heights’

OnStage Playhouse Presents Josefina Lopez’s Early Play

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando looks at the role community theater plays in bringing works like Josefina Lopez's "Logan Heights" to life.


Last weekend, playwright Josefina Lopez had two plays running in San Diego: the politically charged "Detained in the Desert" at the La Jolla Playhouse’s Shank Theater and the highly personal "Logan Heights" at Onstage Playhouse. The productions reveal the role community theater plays in telling these stories.

Some define “professional” as being paid to do a job.

"We’re not getting paid a cent," Bryant Hernandez explains with a laugh.

He’s directing Josefina Lopez’s play "Logan Heights" at Chula Vista’s community theater, Onstage Playhouse.

"People will say it’s just amateur theater but it really isn’t because this is what we do, this is what we love, this is how we just express ourselves," Hernandez added.

Passion rather than pay fuels him, and playwright Lopez appreciates that.

"You know the tragedy of professional theaters is that people like me never felt like I could go to the theater because I never saw people like me on the stage," Lopez said, "And then I couldn’t afford to go, you think about like wow, $72 for the worst seat in the house you’re like "Wow, do I eat or do I go to the theater? Do I feed my soul or do I feed my body?'"

Hernandez feeds his soul by volunteering his time at Onstage Playhouse, where he’s bringing one of Lopez’s early plays to life. The story focuses on a young writer trying to find her voice against the cacophony of her family and barrio life.

Photo caption: "Logan Heights" is a revised version of Josefina Lopez's play "Boyle Heights,...

Photo credit: Beth Accomando

"Logan Heights" is a revised version of Josefina Lopez's play "Boyle Heights," about growing up in the barrio.

"Originally the play is called 'Boyle Heights,'" Lopez explained, "which is the neighborhood in East Los Angeles where I grew up and the director asked me if we could change it to "Logan Heights" because he felt it was so universal that anyone from the barrio or anyone not even in the barrio could identify with it."

Hernandez identified closely with Lopez’s alter ego in the play, Dalia, and her family.

"I am like Dalia," Hernandez stated, "because I grew up being an artist working in theater and my family still don’t know why I chose that. Both of my parents would say they are very Mexican and I consider, for myself, a Chicano, a Latino, cause I was born and raised here in San Diego, here in Chula Vista… my parents would never consider themselves Chicanos, they actually think of it as a negative term."

Lopez also felt like she was straddling two cultures. She lived in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant for 13 years before becoming a legal resident at 18.

"So for me, this play is about me finally saying 'Look, I may not belong anywhere according to society or according to these additional rules but I belong in here, in my soul,'" she said. "You know what? Your home is in your corazón, in your heart, and your soul, and as long as you are comfortable with who you are, wherever you go, that’s home."

Photo caption: Playwright Josefina Lopez.

Photo credit: Roland Lizarondo

Playwright Josefina Lopez.

“Logan Heights” and “Detained in the Desert” (produced earlier this year by the community theater company Teatro Máscara Mágica) represents extremes of Lopez’s work. One is early and personal, and the other is recent and driven by a desire to humanize the immigration issue.

"I don’t feel like, 'Oh, look how much I’ve improved.' It’s more like how wonderful that at 27 I was experiencing that and now at 44 I really can look back and be proud of my life and go 'Wow, I am that woman that that 27-year-old women knew she could be,'" Lopez said.

Photo caption: "Logan Heights" is Josefina Lopez's intensely personal play about a young wom...

Photo credit: Beth Accomando

"Logan Heights" is Josefina Lopez's intensely personal play about a young woman trying to find her voice as an artist.

Lopez added that community theaters bring people together to make them think, question and often times, heal.

"Because a lot of people will not go get help, but if they see a play and they are able to cry about something they have repressed for so many years and they are able to cry with the protagonist, they may be able to heal that because they allowed themselves to feel it. So we’re doing shamanistic work, we’re doing God’s work, but we’re calling it theater just so people don’t get scared," Lopez explained.

But you could say “Logan Heights” explores the scary but universal theme of leaving home to venture out into the unknown to discover who you are, as well as the potential of what you might become.

“Logan Heights” runs through Oct. 12 at Onstage Playhouse in Chula Vista.

Josefina Lopez gained fame for her screenplay, "Real Women Have Curves" in 2002. She just produced a film version of her play "Detained in the Desert."


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