Theater that matters

How an L.A. Times article on Latino theater in Los Angeles could omit the work of the nation's top Chicano/ Latino theater troupe and its landmark work, "Chavez Ravine," at the Mark Taper Forum is confounding ("It's Still All Work, No Play," May 23). Culture Clash should be a Los Angeles treasure. If [Ricardo Montalban Foundation head] Jerry Velasco and [playwright-director] Luis Valdez had seen "Chavez Ravine" at the Mark Taper Forum, they would have seen a theater troupe in touch with its audience, a troupe and a theater in touch with their city and the building of that city that is L.A. "Chavez Ravine" was that rare Chicano play that transcended "Latino theater" while maintaining its barrio worldview. The numbers of people who attended the show tell us that "Chavez" came very close to its grandfather, "Zoot Suit."

[Times staff writer Agustin] Gurza's contention that no Latino play has ever come close to the cross-cultural appeal and importance of "Zoot Suit" is simply not true and Valdez's response to that comment was a bit smug and a little out of touch. We have challenged ourselves to write plays that mean something to people and their busy lives, to write plays that make a difference. L.A. audiences are theater-savvy. We have to start giving them more credit and possibly more than workshop productions from "world class" Latino writers. If we start writing plays that "people want to see," then what makes us different from "American Idol" and other such fare? I wonder if August Wilson writes with this sort of mandate.

What Culture Clash show would the Montalban Theater like? We have a repertory that could fill up three seasons. Don't just give us a chance, give us the keys to the theater and we'll put butts of all colors and class in those seats with the sort of theater that has a proven track record of mattering to this great city.

Richard Montoya

Los Angeles

Richard Montoya is a member of Culture Clash

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