BENEFIT : SCR Cultivates Talent From the Roots of Latino Community

Zan Dubin covers art for The Times Orange County Edition.

George Lopez may be one of comedy's hot commodities, but he doesn't flinch at giving it away to help raise money for South Coast Repertory's Hispanic Playwrights Project.

"I couldn't do enough for SCR," said Lopez, who Saturday will host this year's annual night of entertainment to benefit the Costa Mesa theater's 9-year-old project, in which unproduced plays by Latino writers are developed in two-week workshops at SCR, then given staged readings there.

"The nice thing about the Hispanic Playwrights Project," Lopez said, "is that you're cultivating talent. . . . I went to school in the San Fernando Valley, with mostly lower-middle-class kids, and no one ever came in to cultivate our talents."

"Raices: Una Noche del Teatro '94" (Spanish for "Roots: A Night of Theater") will celebrate "the indigenous cultures of the Americas" with comedy, music, dance and theater by Los Angeles and Orange county-based artists. The evening will also benefit SCR's youth outreach programs.

The performers include Alturas, an Andean music group; Parmelee, a Chicano a capella ensemble; Los Tlacuilos Bribiescas, a group presenting music and dance of the Americas; singers Edna Alvarez, Christine Avila and Teresa Velarde, and musicians Marcos Loya and Francisco Gonzalez. Also, playwright/performance artist Luis Alfaro--whose play "Straight as a Line" will be developed in this year's playwright's project and read Aug. 6--will present an autobiographical work about growing up as a Chicano in Los Angeles.

(The project, which begins Saturday, will work on four scripts to be read Aug. 5 and 6.)

Besides acting as host, Lopez will deliver his brand of stand-up comedy, which, he said in a recent phone interview, "targets people who are separatists, or anti-diversity."

"Orange County is a great forum for that," said the comedian, who also emceed last year's fifth annual, sold-out "Noche." "In my idealist world, it would be nice to have just men and women, and it wouldn't matter what race you are. . . . In fact, I'm working on a stand-up act (to be performed entirely) in the dark, because in the dark, we're all the same."

On a somewhat lighter note, the comedian, whose numerous television appearances include a recent Showtime special and several visits to Johnny Carson's and Arsenio Hall's late-night shows, gave a sample of what Saturday's audience might expect.

"I'll talk about the fact that Mexican food is more popular than Mexican people," he said, "and how the police, instead of using mace, are using cayenne pepper spray. I really think that's just to make us hungry."

* What: "Raices: Una Noche del Teatro '94."

* When: Saturday, July 23, at 6:30 p.m. Pre-performance reception with hors d'oeuvres; dessert and coffee service after the show.

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

* Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to Bristol Avenue and head north to Town Center Drive. Take a right.

* Wherewithal: $35 unassigned seating; $100 reserved seating.

* Where to call: (714) 957-4033.

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