ORANGE : Stage Play Celebrates the ‘Day of the Dead’

Legends of the past came to life on stage Tuesday at Chapman University when a group of local actors celebrated Dia de los Muertos by explaining in song and dance the meaning of the Latin American holiday.

The troupe, called Actores de Santa Ana, portrayed the late Tejano singer Selena, 1950s rock singer Ritchie Valens, labor leader Cesar Chavez and Mexican actor Cantinflas, all explaining the customs of Dia de los Muertos .

“All my favorite foods are here,” said Cantinflas, played by director and writer Luis Olivos Jr., “ gallina en mole, comida china "--chicken in sauce, Chinese food.

The holiday, observed across Latin America, is a festive occasion to remember the dead by erecting altars with marigolds and favorite foods, clothes and other items at grave sites and in homes. It is celebrated annually on Nov. 2.


“It’s about personalities coming back to life to share laughter, to eat, to dance, to joke, to enjoy life on a special day,” said Olivos, 55. “The holiday is not to be interpreted as a scary event. It’s supposed to be a fun family day.”

Many of Olivos’ actors are students from a Santa Ana alternative high school.

“There’s too much violence in Santa Ana,” Olivos said. “I started recruiting at-risk youngsters to star in my plays. . . . In my own way, my craft, I’m trying to attack the gang problem.”

The play concludes with cast members hugging each other and the audience in a show of friendship. “We shouldn’t be scared of death,” Olivos said. “We should come together and share those happy moments we remember with our dead loved ones.”

The play will be staged today at Cal State Fullerton at noon, free to the public, and at the Amtrak station in Santa Ana tonight, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. The admission charge for the night shows is $5.