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THE ARTS : Theatre Lab Commissions Seven Plays


With $200,000 in hand from a recent Ford Foundation grant, the Los Angeles Theatre Center's Latino Theatre Lab has commissioned six Latino playwrights to write seven plays for the lab to produce starting next year.

The plays are the first installment of 17 new plays the lab hopes to present in the next three years.

The first of these presentations will be one of two plays to be written by Cuban playwright Eduardo Machado. Now referred to as "Project X-2," Machado's next play is expected to deal with the denial of one's sexual identity. It will be directed by Simon Callow in a February, 1990, production.

The author of the recent Theatre Center production "A Burning Beach," Machado was the only one of the six playwrights not present at a recent press conference at the center to announce the commissions. The other five playwrights are Jimmy Santiago Baca, Harry Gamboa Jr., Sam Garcia, Cherrie Moraga and Milcha Sanchez-Scott.

Latino Theatre Lab Director Jose Luis Valenzuela said the commissions represent a milestone for the 10-year-old Latino Theatre Lab because "this is the first time we're commissioning playwrights, and they will have (lab ensemble) actors at their disposal."

Valenzuela also said he chose the six playwrights from a field of 18. Because of the great diversity of the Los Angeles Latino community, he said, his goal was to "find totally differentvoices who all have something different to say about how they see the world."

Baca, a New Mexico poet and novelist, will write his first play for the lab. A former prison inmate, Baca taught himself to read and write during four years in solitary confinement. His play will deal with "how much are (Latinos) willing to give away (their) identity for the various token prizes society may offer," Baca said.

Gamboa, a founding member of the Chicano art group ASCO, wrote the conceptual drama "Jetter's Jinx," which was performed at the Theatre Center in 1985. His new two-act play with music will deal with "urban issues and the desire to remain invisible, part of the phantom culture in the city, the people you pretend not to know and hope you don't see when you look in the mirror," Gamboa said.

Garcia, whose play "The Land of Plenty," was given a staged reading at South Coast Repertory earlier this month, will adapt a Jack London short story titled "The Boxer."

Sanchez-Scott will also submit an adaptation. The author of the previous lab productions "Roosters" and "Stone Wedding," she will adapt Bizet's "Carmen" in the magical realism style that characterized her earlier works, she said.

Moraga, a San Francisco poet and playwright, will look at the repercussions of exposing farm workers to pesticide spraying--in her play, "Heroes and Saints."

Bill Bushnell, the Theatre Center's artistic producing director, said the grant covers only the development of the plays. Productions will be part of the theater's regular season offerings.

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