Luis Miguel Valdez Drama Analysis
Luis Miguel Valdez’s genius was to reach an audience both Chicano and working-class, not only with political farces about strikers, “scabs,” and bosses in a familiar street-theater concept but also by incorporating the popular theatrical forms of Latin America itself: the carpas (traveling theater shows), variedades (Mexican vaudeville), corridos (traditional Mexican folk ballads), and others. It is a unique combination to which Valdez added his own distinctive forms. Appraising Valdez’s work is, however, different from appraising that of most other playwrights of his stature. By political conviction and by necessity, much of his uvre is a collective product. Although he has always been El Teatro Campesino’s major creative inspiration and although entire passages from the collective plays were written by him alone, Valdez’s drama is largely a joint project under his guidance—a collective political and religious celebration.
The starting point for all of Valdez’s work is his evocation of what he calls la plebe, el vulgo, or simply La Raza, that is, the Chicano people. It is from this outlook that the first actos were created—a genre very close to the Brechtian Lehrstück (teaching piece), with its episodic structure, its use of broad social types, its indifference to all but the most minimal of props and scenery, and its direct involvement of the audience in the solving of its dramatized social problems. In Valdez’s words, the actos “must be popular, subject to no other critics except the pueblo itself, but it must also educate the pueblo toward an appreciation of social change, on and off the stage.”
According to various accounts, the form was first developed in a Delano storefront, where Valdez had assembled his would-be performers from among the strikers. He hung signs around their necks that read: huelguista (striker), esquirol (scab), and patroncito (little boss) and then simply asked them to show what had happened that day on the picket line. After some hesitation, the actors performed an impromptu political play, alive with their own jargon and bawdy jokes and inspired by the passions of the labor dispute within which they found themselves.
Valdez’s theatrical vision is inseparable from the conditions under which he founded El Teatro Campesino in the farmworkers’ strike of 1965. Born in struggle, his early plays all have a vitality, directness, and urgency that cannot be divorced from their lasting appeal. His achievement blossoms finally with his successful incorporation of the deep cultural roots of the Chicano nation, which are found in the religious imagery of the indio past. Both facets of his career have been widely copied by other Chicano directors and playwrights and admired widely outside the Chicano community as well.
Las dos caras del patroncito
One exemplary early acto is Las dos caras del patroncito (the two faces of the boss), in which a typical undocumented worker, recruited fresh from Mexico by a California landowner in order to scab on the strike, exchanges roles with his patroncito. Dressed in a pig mask and speaking in an absurd Texas drawl, the patroncito playfully suggests that he temporarily trade his own whip for the esquirol‘s pruning sheers. The two quickly assume the inner reality of these symbolic outward forms. The climactic moment occurs when the owner removes his mask, at which point the esquirol has the revelation that worker and boss look (and therefore are) the same. Calling now for help, the boss is...
(The entire section is 1518 words.)