They call themselves "Latins Anonymous," but they won't stay anonymous for long--they're too good.
The Los Angeles comedy group is ending an extended engagement at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, where it has broken records with the longest running show presented there. And it has received rave reviews.
Ventura County residents have the rare opportunity of seeing the play at no charge as part of California Lutheran University's Festival de Encuentros on March 29.
Written and performed by Rick Najera, Luisa Leschin, Armando Molina and Diane Rodriguez, four Latino actors in their 30s, "Latins Anonymous" addresses the issue of "Latin denial" while exploding the myth of a "single Latin experience."
With irreverent, witty dialogue, the play combines two realities. First, the foursome interacts with the audience as if all present were attending weekly support group meetings for conflicted Latins.
"The first time I realized I was Mexican," says Najera in the first scene, "was when I asked my mother if I could play with the Mexican kids down the block, and she told me if I wanted to play with a Mexican, I could stay home and play with myself."
Each writer/actor brings his own experience to his character. Leschin, the daughter of a Central American president, grew up in Guatemala before spending several years abroad. Her character is into major denial, going so far as changing her name and claiming to be French.
Molina, the son of Colombian immigrants, uses his background in New York stand-up comedy to perfection as morose Puerto Rican poet Joaquin Bucaramanga. Hoping to entice a woman back to his loft, he declares, "Bitsy, I love your tormented hair."
Ironically, half the troupe does not speak Spanish. At one point Rodriguez, who toured internationally for 14 years as a member of Teatro Campesino, confesses that she does not know the language, but as a former "La Raza" radical, "I fake it real well, because that's the kind of commitment you need."
Najera, writer of skits "Machos of Omaha" and "Separate Turf," grew up in San Diego. His poignant scene, "Menudo," touches upon the dark side of Latino identity as the young man questions the nature of fame.
Several blackout skits effectively satirize Hispanic stereotypes while underscoring the limited opportunities that they create for Hispanic professionals in the entertainment industry.
The success of "Latins Anonymous" seems to follow the "Hollywood Shuffle" model. The group wrote and produced its own performance vehicle and is merchandising T-shirts and a line of Hispanic greeting cards in addition to writing a second play.
The members each had considerable professional credits before they met at casting calls. Tired of playing maids, gang members and drug dealers, the four decided to collaborate.
They made each other laugh with favorite Latino cliches, every one of which can be found in this show:
A film noir skit features Latin-lover detective Samuel Espada, giving up his obsession for blond "Anglos" to return to his Chiquita, "with eyes so dark you could show a movie in them." Flirtation expert Lolana Aerobics admonishes, "remember chicas, a Latina's hips know no rest." Mexican kids scream at their parents, "Speak English."
Latins Anonymous is a treat for the senses. The energetically paced co-direction of Jose Cruz Gonzalez and Miguel Delgado is well matched to the sound track. The music works well as a metaphor for the varied Latin experience, where lushly romantic violins of "Concierto de Aranjuez" are juxtaposed with the "I Love Lucy" theme song, popular Spanish radio stations, the melancholy Edith Piaf and toe-tapping "ranchero" tunes.
Costumes and props designed by Patosi Valdez and Jim Reva complement the visual comedy. Meanwhile, the dead-on satire appeals to the intellect. It may be funny, but it leaves the audience with a lot to ponder. And the group succeeds in bringing Latino theater into the mainstream of American comedy.
Latins Anonymous runs at LATC through April 1. It has been chosen to open San Diego Repertory's 1990 season on June 6.
* "LATINS ANONYMOUS"
At California Lutheran University. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. in the Preus-Brandt Forum. The evening's entertainment also features jazz and salsa music performed by "Nuestro," before Latins Anonymous. For details call (805) 493-3220 or 493-3302.