Una Noche to Remember. : Hispanic Playwrights Project Takes Center Stage at SCR Beginning Tonight

Mark Pinsky is a staff writer who writes about the arts for The Times Orange County Edition.

After a week of rehearsals, workshops and consultations, the performance portion of South Coast Repertory's sixth annual Hispanic Playwrights Project kicks off tonight at 7 with the benefit "Una Noche del Teatro '91." The evening of music, theater and comedy includes skits by Octavio Solis--one of this year's three playwrights--and Lisa Loomer, who participated in an earlier program.

Two of the three full-length staged readings set for this weekend as part of the project touch on the lure of the Anglo-American dream.

In Edit Villarreal's "R and J," which will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday, the playwright draws on Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" to raise the question, "What is lost when one assimilates?" Villarreal said that what began as "a straight-on adaptation" of the Shakespeare classic "took on a life of its own" by the third draft. The play is set in East Los Angeles.

Drawing on the same Italian novella used by the Bard, Villarreal made the central conflict in "R and J" one of class: the daughter of an upwardly mobile Latino striver (who hopes the young woman will marry an Anglo, USC law student) falls in love with a working-class, undocumented Latino.

"The class thing is more interesting," said Villarreal, "it's more contemporary and biting." In addition to avoiding verse, she also decided not to take the easy route of updating the gang milieu Leonard Bernstein used in his adaptation, adding, "I really wanted to avoid 'West Side Story.' "

In another twist, "R and J" continues after the death of the young lovers (where Shakespeare ended "Romeo and Juliet"), incorporating "the Mesoamerican idea of death," having the characters returning "happier in death than in life."

As part of the Hispanic Playwrights Project, 40 migrant students who are considered "at risk" of not completing high school have been invited to attend Friday's performance of "R and J." In addition to attending the reading, the students, from the Basic Education Skills Training project at Cal State Fullerton, will meet with Jose Cruz Gonzalez, the director of "R and J" who also heads the annual playwrights project.

In "September 11," by Chilean native Guillermo Reyes, the central character faces a number of life choices, including whether to leave Chile and come to the United States to become "Hollywood's happiest maid." Another alternative is to marry a rising star in dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet's secret police.

The play, named for the date in 1973 when the Chilean military overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, takes place on the same date two years later, which is also the birthday of the young woman facing the choices. The play, says Reyes, "uses humor in a very deadly way" and is told from the point of view of "people who are part of the (Pinochet) regime, not from the victims' point of view."

"September 11," which will be performed at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, is directed by Lillian Garrett, an Argentine playwright whose "The White Rose" had its world premiere this year at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.

The third play, "La Iluminada," by Solis, will close this year's project on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The play portrays the efforts of a nuclear physicist to bring back a long-dead lover as a hologram--a three-dimensional image created by laser technology. In order to write "La Iluminada," which is directed by SRC's artistic director, David Emmes, Solis said he wove disparate elements of alchemy, physics and Catholicism.

In particular, Solis said, he has been "immersing myself in scientific literature," especially "chaos theory," and one of the better books on the subject, "The Turbulent Mirror: An Illustrated Guide to Chaos Theory and the Science of Wholeness," by John Briggs and David F. Peat.

What: Sixth Annual Hispanic Playwrights Project.

When: A benefit, "Una Noche del Teatro '91," is Thursday, Aug. 8, at 7 p.m. Staged readings: Friday, Aug. 9, "R and J" at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 10, "September 11" at 2:30 p.m. and "La Iluminada" at 7:30 p.m.

Where: South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

Whereabouts: San Diego (405) Freeway to Bristol Street exit north. Bristol to Town Center Drive.

Wherewithal: Tickets for each of the three staged readings are $6 ($2 for seniors and students). Tickets for "Una Noche del Teatro '91" are $25 each.

Where to call: (714) 957-4033 for staged readings; (714) 957-2602 for "Una Noche del Teatro '91."

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