Learn to Be Latina at Stray Cat Theatre

Kate Haas, Joseph Kremer, and Joshua Katzker watch Brittany Roa Learn to Be Latina.
Kate Haas, Joseph Kremer, and Joshua Katzker watch Brittany Roa Learn to Be Latina.
John Groseclose

It took attending Learn to Be Latina with a very smart date (who often consumes journalism the day it appears) for Curtains to hear that not everyone thinks the latest from Stray Cat Theatre is about identity politics in any serious, up-to-the-minute way. In fact, this script, Stray Cat's production, and playwright Enrique Urueta do have pantloads of the bona fides to be part of our national dialogue on this stuff.

Let's just start with the reason that persons under 17 aren't admitted to the show (which is hysterically frantic, sexay, and entertaining, even if you don't find it sufficiently meaningful) without an adult guardian.

And let's assume the existence of that reason is not, like throwing in Jan Brewer's name whenever possible, a canny audience-grabber that arguably only briefly flirts with real-world relevance.

Let's say you've just seen Act I of what press materials astutely describe as a "post-9/11 race farce/lesbian romantic comedy (with dance breaks)." Intermission begins. You've already journeyed to the world of pop celebrity, which is not Arizona and is instead a place where being Middle Eastern in 21st-century America can be considered worse (in a cost/benefit kind of way) than being Latina. It's only California, though -- so being queer might be marginally better for a celebrity than being ethnically undesirable, but only if you're white.

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You have by now, perhaps, seen the reason minors can't just wander in off the street and catch the show. But perhaps you haven't yet. And maybe at that moment, you notice that certain "inappropriate" things are seen by The Man as even more offensive when a woman or a gay person does them. You wonder just what we're trying to protect our children from.

You'll also find plenty in the rapid-fire speeches of "ethnic consultant" Mary O'Malley, PhD (played by the always watchable Johanna Carlisle), to both expand and challenge your hardcore politicocultural Weltanschauung. But you will definitely miss some of it, because this production is like a stocking with a little too much chocolate in it -- there's so much going on all the time -- and also because Tempe Performing Arts Center's acoustics are not the best for shows heavy in complex dialogue.

Normally, I might also blame the fact that Carlisle has to, as an actor, adopt two separate dialects to play her character, but one of them is supposed to be bad and fake and/or sound that way (depending exactly how you interpret the play, I say to delicately avoid spoilers), so there's a good chance it's all coming out exactly the way she and director Ron May intend.

Whatever the Internet has done to wound the English language, it's also spoiled the hell out of those of us who like to be able to pin down every word instead of letting human communication simply wash over us sometimes, which is a wonderful thing that can happen in great theater.

I adore Wrara Plesoiu's flashy, flexible scenic design and Doug Loynd's costumes, which are thoughtful, detailed, flattering, and recede and stand out at the appropriate times -- except for the horrible deep, bumpy machine hem on the suit skirt in O'Malley's very first appearance. I get that you sometimes have to go that way for opening night (community theater, in which most people have other jobs as well, is a massive time crunch), but by the time I saw the show, somebody should have thrown a fit and fixed it.

Though the aforementioned dance breaks are hot hot hot and executed with precision -- just like every other element of this fun and affecting production -- we never get to see Latin pop sensation Hanán (Brittany Roa) actually performing during the action of the play. Not a problem at all -- but, in fine Milli Vanilli tradition, this:

makes up for that, if you're still hungry.

Learn to Be Latina continues through Saturday, December 18, at Tempe Performing Arts Center, 132 East Sixth Street (not Tempe Center for the Arts in the river bottom). For tickets, $15 to $23, click here or call 480-820-8022. Tonight, Thursday, December 16, you student types are eligible to enjoy special $10 student admission!


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