Latino Drama Analysis


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Noted scholar in Latino history Nicolás Kanellos gives the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Mexican and Spanish troupes toured the cities of northern Mexico, as the origin of Latino theater. After the Mexican War (1846-1848), when the United States gained the land constituting the modern-day states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, theatrical culture grew steadily. In Southern and Northern California, the number of theater houses and professional touring companies continued to increase. However, it was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that the first generations of Chicano playwrights emerged, inspired by the events of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). Identity and immigration became the thematic orientation of their work. The end of the nineteenth century also witnessed the roots of Cuban American theater. According to Kanellos, the first Cuban American theaters were established by tobacco entrepreneurs who relocated to the coast of Florida because of the turbulent events of the Spanish-American War (1898). The first half of the twentieth century saw a variety of developments and disappointments for Latinos.

The Great Depression devastated Latino theater, and through the 1950’s most amateur and professional theaters produced Spanish plays or translated American plays. In the meantime, exciting developments were happening on the international stage. Influential Mexican artists such as Xavier...

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1950’s and 1960’s

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

One of the most exciting events in the adolescence of Chicano theater was the founding of El Teatro Campesino by Luis Miguel Valdez in 1965. Born and educated in the United States, playwright Valdez remained involved in the field of Latino theater through activism, writing, and teaching. One of his plays, Los vendidos (pr. 1967), gives examples of the ideological apparatus of American-born Latin artists. His cast, consisting of Mexican and Mexican American stereotypes (farmworker, urban Johnny, revolucionario) confronts the most uncomfortable myths about the people of Mexican heritage in both Anglo American and Latino cultures. Valdez’s El Teatro Campesino produced the newest, most experimental, often most confrontational works by Latino playwrights, thus starting an official phase in Latino theater that continued to awaken political consciousness in American-born Latino descendants.

Unlike Valdez’s Chicano theater, Cuban American independent artists concentrated, during the 1950’s and 1960’s, on their pasts rather than their futures. The Cuban exile drama of Omar Torres, Julio Matas, José Cid Pérez, Leopoldo Hernández, José Sánchez-Boudy, Celedonio González, Raúl de Cárdenas, and Matías Montes-Huidobro was based on a rich literary heritage of a mother-tongue that was transferred as a “frozen culture” to the new land. The group’s dramatic themes were drawn from social difficulties in Cuba, rather than the impact of...

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The Nuyorican Poets Cafe

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe , one of the most influential intellectual groups in the history of Latino theater, launched the avant-garde generation of Puerto Rican artists. In 1974, the cafe was founded by Miguel Algarín and provided a space, physical and intellectual, for the development of new work. Playwrights, poets, actors, and directors of different races and heritages, including Miguel Piñero, Wesley Brown, Rome Neal, Lois Elaine Griffith, and Lucky Cienfuegos, joined this collective experience of theater that sought to mirror real life. In Action: The Nuyorican Poets Cafe Theater Festival, founder Algarín summarized the mission:The Nuyrican Poets Cafe was started so that all actors of all color could drop the bandanas wrapped around their heads, pull the razors out of their pockets and the knives from their jackets, and just act. At the Cafe they auditioned for roles that had substance, knowing they would not be stereotyped into the familiar urban guerilla war front image. We looked to portray the life characterized by urban decay, but after first locating the real pulse of the street. We looked for where the street drama was and who could write about it. Truth first, then theater. Actors benefitted from this process, because they were never asked to devalue their experience and backgrounds by playing West Side Story over and over. We looked for theatrical language that realistically portrayed life on Avenues D, C, B, and A, unlike the...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Algarín, Miguel, and Lois Griffith, eds. Action: The Nuyorican Poets Cafe Theater Festival. New York: Touchstone, 1997. Provides an overview of the history of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe by the founder.

Arrizon, Alicia. Latina Performance: Traversing the Stage. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999. Begins an examination of Latina performance by focusing on early twentieth century oral traditions and theatrical personalities, then traces the subsequent emergence of Latina dramatic aesthetics in its position of “in-betweenness.”

Garza, Roberto J., ed. Contemporary Chicano Theatre. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1976. Traces the development of Mexican American theater in the twentieth century.

Harasym, Sarah, ed. The Post-colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues. New York: Routledge, 1990. A seminal work that influenced the postcolonial and identity politics movements.

Huerta, Jorge. Chicano Drama: Performance, Society, and Myth. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Explores Chicano theater and how it presents its community and identity while caught between the United States and Mexico. Gives biographies of playwrights and analyses of their plays.

Kanellos, Nicolás. A History of Hispanic Theatre in the United States: Origins to 1940. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990. Traces the origins and development of Latino theater in the United States.

Ramírez, Elizabeth C. Chicanas/Latinas in American Theatre: A History of Performance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000. A feminist critical source on playwrights in Latino theater.

Svich, Caridad, and María Teresa Marrero, eds. Out of the Fringe: Contemporary Latina/Latino Theatre and Performance. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2000. Traces three distinct stages in contemporary Latino theater and examines their trends and themes.