SEARCHING FOR AZTLÁN
Written & Directed by Lakin Valdez
A Journey to the Past and Present of Chicano Pride
Milagro’s national touring production
January 8 – 17, 2015
Searching for Aztlán begins in January 2012 with the Tucson school board’s acceptance of HB 2281, shutting down Mexican American Studies and removing its books from classrooms. A giant dust storm, or “haboob,” strikes the city and leaves Dolores Huelga, a teacher, unemployed and in an alternate reality. Lost in the desert, Dolores sets out on a quest for the mythical city of Aztlán. Along the way she encounters a quirky High-Spanic, a militant Super-Chicano, and a working class Latina Immigrant – all dispossessed exiles – with whom she joins forces to fight for truth, justice, and the “indigenous way.”
A biting and satirical journey, Searching for Aztlán takes the audience on a metaphorical yellow brick road of discovery about what it means to be Chicano in contemporary society.
‘Searching for Aztlán’ at Milagro Theatre takes us on a metaphorical journey (review)
By Holly Johnson | For The Oregonian/OregonLive
on January 10, 2015 at 10:57 AM, updated January 10, 2015 at 1:20 PM
“Searching for Aztlán,” a new play at the Milagro Theatre, may be a short one, but it’s crammed with ideas, laced with satirical humor and designed for adults and young people alike to enjoy and learn from.
The play — which will tour schools in the Northwest after its run in Portland — was written and directed by Lakin Valdez, the son of Luis Valdez, who formed the acclaimedEl Teatro Campesino. The theater piece is rooted in the 50-year-old Chicano movement, and takes us on a metaphorical journey, with faint yet clever references to Dorothy’s journey in “The Wizard of Oz.”
In 2012, when the Mexican-American studies program in Tucson is shut down and related books are removed from the classrooms , a teacher named Dolores (Alida Holguín Wilson-Gunn) finds herself jobless, then caught in a dust storm (called a “haboob”), which plunks her down into an alternate reality. Lost in the desert, she decides to seek out the mythical Aztlán — the ancestral home of the Aztecs thought to have been in northwestern Mexico or the southwestern United States
(The concept of Aztlán is central to the Chicano movement and inspired their idea of a new nation). As her journey begins, she picks up other travelers who are dispossessed exiles, one a traitor in their midst. But solidarity wins the day, despite an up-to-no-good witch, or bruja (Ana Silva as a corporate villainess with cell phone, pants suit, and a poofy blond wig), who tries to suppress the group. Is Aztlán a state of mind, a place in the heart, perhaps, one that will strengthen these folks of indigenous heritage to find their past and strengthen their future? That seems to be Valdez’ idea, and it’s strong, although some of the play feels shallow when it might run deeper. Still, the politics come across vibrantly in the tradition of El Teatro Campesino (the cultural arm of the United Farm Workers co-founded by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta).
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Highlights: As the four actors do a little “yellow brick road” dance while traveling together, we hear “Wizard of Oz” music combined with heavy drums and guitars, James Brown style. It’s a perfect blend of music and rhythms, a bit of anger, a bit of mocking sweetness. The music really sharpens the hourlong show, helping bring it into focus.
Low notes: Silva was very funny in a variety of parts, including HighSpanic, a young Chicana immersed in mainstream American culture who can barely speak Spanish. But a shrillness in all her roles marred the production, including her screechy witch’s cackle. Better to keep those high notes to a minimum.
Ajai Terrazas Tripathi Most valuable performer: Ajai Terrazas Tripathi, an Oregon State University theater graduate, brings a wonderful sense of humor and strong characterization to the show. The only male in the piece, he deftly sketches a variety of parts, but is strong, funny and compelling as a 1970s militant who’s been searching for Aztlán for some 30 years, and going around in circles. He’s all bark and no bite, carrying a toy machine gun, we discover, and playing with dolls and stuffed animals as members of his “army.” “Sometimes I’m even scared of myself,” he confesses.
Line of the night: “The Aztlán you seek is a place of evolving consciousness.”
Best moment: When an Aztec backdrop is unveiled, indicating Aztlán as a visual idea. The painting by scenic artist Sivonna West is compelling, if a little too muted in color.
Biggest surprise: When one of Silva’s characters (employed by the witch) dons the sun god headdress and tries to cow the others, then quits to join them. Well, not too surprising.
Take-away: The fight for truth, justice and the “indigenous way” has always been at the heart of Chicano causes, and Valdez helps us discover what it means to be a Chicano in contemporary society, while letting us chuckle at satires on stereotypes. He mentions in the program notes that the inclusion of Mexican-American studies, those that were banned in 2012, had a decided correlation to increased Latino student achievement. Now dealing with the 21st century’s conservative agenda, he’s facing some of the same issues his father’s generation did, and the satirical, political essence of El Teatro Campesino is as vital today as in the ’70s.
Searching for Aztlán at the Milagro Theatre, Central Eastside Industrial District
“The Stuff that Dreams are Made on…”
Dennis Sparks Reviews – 1/11/15
The search for the elusive Shangra-La, Camelot, Narnia, Oz, Brigadoon, Neverland, et. al. or, in short, a Garden of Eden, is a universal one. A magical land where everyone is happy and dreams really do come true. A place where you are free to live the life you choose.
But, into every Paradise created, there is always a Snake in the grass…a Wicked Witch controlling the winds…a Big, Bad Wolf ready to pounce. Just when we’ve eased on down that yellow, brick road to those Golden Gates, Reality raises its ugly head. But, according to a theme of the play, in order to change that Reality, you have to change yourself, and create a new Reality.
The echoing of The Wizard of Oz in this play is deliberate. It traces the journey of Dolores (Alida Holguín Gunn), a history teacher of Mexican-American Studies in Tuscon, Arizona, circa 2012. It seems that the powers-that-be want to reduce the Mexican contribution to American History to a mere cipher. Dolores is not pleased with this outcome but, before she can protest too much, a dust storm arrives and whisks her off to possibly a mythical land call Aztlán.
But, according to some characters she meets along the way, a Dreamer (Angeles Perez Peña), seeking a better world; a Revolutionary (Ajai Terrazas Tripath), wanting to overthrow the old world; and a HighSpanic (Ana Silva), guarding the heartland from intruders, this place is controlled by a Witch, who governs with an iron fist…either her way or the highway.
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They eventually reach their destination and, like in its counterpart, garner an audience with the Sun Stone (a phony Wizard). And her advice does not set well with the troop, for it means taking several steps backward. The advice and the outcome and a couple of surprise twists in the plot, will have to remain mute in this review, for that is for you to discover.
This production is without a doubt, though-provoking, and will hopefully spurn discussions throughout its own journey. And yet, it does have a mischievous lilt, a contagious energy, and a bold enthusiasm that propel it forward to be equally entertaining as well. It is said the “pen is mightier than the sword” and this is a good example of that. The creator, Valdez, has succeeded in marrying the head and the heart into a digestible food for thought.
The backdrop by Scenic Designer, Sivonna West, is quite impressive and is a work of art in its own right. And the cast is truly amazing! Essentially three actors played almost all the supporting characters and in rapid succession, too. I admire and applaud their efforts, for it is truly a unique ensemble! And Gunn does a nice job of holding the plot together. But, to me, Silva stands out in this wonderful cast, with her well-defined and clear definition of the roles she plays. She obviously has something extra special to offer the production.
It should be noted that the play is presented in Spanish and English. Although they do a good job of presenting the material so that you really don’t lose track of the story, even if you don’t understand both languages, there were occasional lines in Spanish that were getting laughs from the audience and I felt I might be missing something important. It just goes to show you that being bi-lingual is definitely an asset.
I recommend this show. If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
This is an original work, written and directed by Lakin Valdez, and will be playing at their space at 525 SE Stark St. through January 17th (then it will go on tour). For more information, go to their site at www.milagro.org or call 503-236-7253.
About Lakin Valdez, the Director:
Lakin Valdezis a director, writer and performing artist. Born and raised in the extended family of El Teatro Campesino, he served as the company’s Associate Artistic Director from the years 2000 to 2005. He is currently the resident playwright/director of E.T.C. and primary deviser and director of headrusH in Oakland, CA. Since 2004, Lakin has written, directed and performed in more than a dozen plays, culminating in work that reflects the rich history and vibrant culture of the Latino/Chicano community. His body of work has been described as “Powerful” (L.A. Times), “Consummately engaging” (Variety), to “Hauntingly intense” (San Francisco Chronicle). He is the recipient of two NPN Creation Fund Awards, a Zellerbach Emerging Playwright Award and an NEA Access to Excellence Award for his generative work. His next directorial project is the dynastic Mayan dance drama “Rabinal Achi,” which he will develop with Cutting Ball Theatre in 2014 -15.
Milagro Touring and Arts Education
Dañel Malán, Playwright & Founding Director, co-founded the Miracle Theatre Group in 1985 with her husband, Jose Eduardo Gonzalez and in 1989 created the bilingualm national touring program, Teatro Milagro. Dañel has written and produced many Teatro Milagro productions, notably: FRIDA, un retablo (2013), B’aktun 13 (2012) about the end of the Mayan calendar, Duende de Lorca (2011) a surrealist vision of Federico García Lorca, El Ultimo (2009) an eco-drama, and ZAPATISTA (2008) the story of Subcomandante Marcos. In addition to bilingual plays, Dañel has worked to collaboratively design bilingual curriculum for k- 12 schools, colleges, and community groups and is currently working on her master’s degree in curriculum design at Portland State University.
Alida Holguín Wilson-Gunn, Maria & teaching artist, hails from Arizona, where she has been working as the director of Borderlands Theater’s Education Outreach Programs for the past 7 seasons. As an actress some of her Borderlands credits include: Alice, Lidless; Jocasta, Oedipus el Rey and Christina, Electricidad, both by Luis Alfaro; Esmeralda, Earthquake Chica; Picuka, Oliver Mayer’s Conjunto; and the Bride, Bodas de Sangre. Other credits include: Kate, Rouge Theaters’ Immortal Longings; Frida Kahlo, Still Life with Chamber Music Plus; Abby, Fiction for Beowulf Alley (nominated for MAC award; best actress 06); Killer, Killer in Love with Camilla’s Theater, NY; and her own one-woman show Vein, NY. Alida has also appeared in several independent films and television commercials.
Ajai Terrazas-Tripathi, Jose and teaching artist, is originally from Corvallis, Oregon, where he graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in Theatre Arts. During his time at OSU he performed in many memorable roles in such plays as Much Ado About Nothing, Woyzek, The Silent Woman, and An Adult Evening with Shel Silverstein. Ajai has also directed, and also recently produced Stories of Discrimination, two original plays The Death Rattle, and The Anti-Bullying Project, both based on real life stories in Corvallis. This is his fourth year performing in the Milagro touring company as a performer and teaching artist, he also assists with grant writing and development efforts.
Angeles Perez Peña, Artist, was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Favorite Argentina stage credits include: La Pipetua a la obra, El soplón de Dios and A-terradas. Film credits include: El hijo de la Novia, Ecstasy, Sólo por hoy and El Fantasma de Buenos Aires. Angeles trained at Escena Abierta with Jose Luis Britos and Pablo Marchini. In New York she was a student at the New York Academy of Film. In Portland she trained at the Actor’s Lab with Kristina Haddad and JD Lewis. Additionally she enjoys working with young children in educational settings.
Ana Silva, Artist, a native Portlander, is a recent graduate of AMDA: The College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts where she received her BFA in Acting. Following graduation, she performed in Los Angeles with Inner-City Filmmakers, Creative Differences, East West Players Theatre, Teatro Nuevos Horizontes, and Casa 0101. After returning to Portland, Ana became a part of the Milagro touring team as Coatlicue/ Escupir in El Niño Diego. She is also currently a player in the House Improv Team at Curious Comedy Theater. She is happy to be performing and a teaching artist with Milagro and two of their touring productions.