ehman College has
one of the largest Hispanic and Latino student populations on the
East Coast, and our surrounding community is rich in this culture
as well. At the Lovinger Theatre, one of our goals this season was
to present a series of performances in which these important members
of our student body and our Bronx neighbors could see themselves
in the culture-and the culture in themselves. Encouraged by Dean
of Humanities Marlene Gottlieb, we wanted to see their struggles
and strengths mirrored onstage and to meet outstanding Hispanic
and Latino writers and performers who had triumphed in the theater.
Ruben Santiago-Hudson during his April 23 reading from Lackawanna
Blues. Recently a drama critic for the Village Voice called
him "the American actor I'd most like to see take on the
On April 16,
a spring day that made the Lehman College campus a garden of green
trees and pink azaleas, that goal was realized with the opening
of the Lovinger Theatre's Teatro Latino Festival. Standing on stage
were Rosie Perez and Jon Diaz, two stars of stage and screen, fresh
from rave reviews of the new play they were premiering at the Joseph
Papp Public Theater in Manhattan-Puerto Rican playwright Josť Rivera's
References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot. Their reading,which captured
both the tension and tenderness of their starring roles, gave the
audience an intimate introduction to this major new work, which
explores the pressures being exerted by American society on a contemporary
Hispanic marriage. Afterwards, in a question-and-answer session,
the audience-full of Rosie Perez fans-asked about the beginnings
of her career, her experiences as a Latina actress, any discrimination
she may have suffered, her feelings playing opposite stars like
Nicholas Cage and Jeff Bridges, and her thoughts on the recent "Latin
Explosion." Perez told of never intending to be an actress. Out
clubbing one night in Los Angeles, Spike Lee spotted her. He gave
her his card and said, "Call me and your life will never be the
same." She did and it wasn't:
Rosie Perez, nominee for an Academy Award for her role in
Fearless(1993), is seen with some of her admirers during her
apperance at the kickoff of Teatro Latino on April 16 at the
Perez was featured
in Lee's debut film Do the Right Thing, and her career took off.
She also recalled casting issues regarding her Latina heritage.
Agents, directors and producers would ask-"Can you dye your hair
blond?" "Can you change your accent?"-can you "read" more American?
She refused, convinced that her Puerto Rican identity was part of
her strength as an artist. Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who earned his
Tony in August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Seven Guitars,
felt the same way. His contribution to the Teatro Latino Festival
was a reading from his new one-man play, Lackawanna Blues, then
in previews at the Public Theater. Although he works in "traditional"
roles (such as lawyers on TV's Law and Order and in Devil's Advocate
with Al Pacino), his heart is in his creative experience as an actor
of mixed Latino and African American heritage. Santiago-Hudson spoke
of his struggles to be taken seriously as an actor and to fight
for roles that portrayed men of color in a positive light.
Blues, which Santiago-Hudson wrote and performed, portrays more
than 20 characters from every walk of life who pass through a boarding
house. The play is autobiographical-Santiago-Hudson, a young homeless
boy, was adopted by his beloved "Nanny," who ran a boarding house-and
unfolds old men's memories, young boys' hopes, and lovers' disappointments
through Nanny's eyes. This actor's tour de force testifies to the
human spirit's desire not only to survive but also to live a life
full of joy.
The last event in the Teatro Latino Festival, Lidia Ramirez's I
Love America, was a revelation for the 500 Lehman and College Now
students who attended its premiere at the Lovinger. Written and
performed by this talented Dominican actress, the play is based
on her interviews with Dominican refugees who risked their lives
in small boats (yolas) to get to Puerto Rico and who eventually
arrived in New York in search of the American Dream. Having seen
their personal experiences and those of their families portrayed
on stage, the students laughed and cheered and answered Lidia's
performance with their own. The script was moving, funny, and real.
The audience knew this world, they knew this struggle. It had been
private. Now it was public. After the Lovinger world premiere, the
play moved Off-Broadway to the American Place Theater on West 46th
The magic of theater lies in making the invisible visible (Shakespeare
captured this with his magical stage direction in The Tempest :
"Enter. . .Ariel, invisible"). Theater brings what has been kept
secret into the open for all to share, both in sadness and joy.
This was felt by everyone in the Lovinger Theatre when the stage
faded to black and the lights came up on opening night. The energy
and the light continued to build throughout the series.
Teatro Latino was a first experience for us. We laughed a lot and
learned a lot. We made friends we didn't realize we had. Many members
of the audience attended every event. CUNY has always been an important
source and inspiration of new cultural trends in New York City,
and we at the Lovinger Theatre hope to continue this tradition in
future seasons of Teatro Latino.