Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Molly Beth Brenner, Fri., March 7, 2003
Barrio Daze: La RazaDougherty Arts Center, through March 8
Running time: 1 hr, 30 min
I believe, perhaps naively, that for all the pain it causes, the human tendency to stereotype others is, at root, an attempt to wrest order and understanding from a chaotic universe. This doesn't justify holding biases; it merely suggests they have a neutral origin. What's more interesting than the stereotyping of one group by another, though, is the phenomenon of stereotyping within groups. If you're not a member of said group, you may never know what those subcategories are, or that they even exist. The glimpse into these pigeonholes within Latino culture was the most enlightening aspect of Teatro Humanidad's Barrio Daze, a series of damn funny and poignant sketches created, woven together, and performed by Adrian Villegas. Each of Villegas' characters uses a familiar Latino stereotype as its starting point: the immigrant gardener, the ex-con, the Hispanic political hopeful. But during the monologues, the characters expand beyond their caricatures, becoming well-drawn, multifaceted individuals with thought-provoking stories.
The show begins with a lecture by the esteemed Professor Adrian Villegas, tracing the history of the "vato sapien" from Spanish conquest to the present day. This serves as a smart and riotously funny introduction to what Villegas sees as conflicting elements of today's Latino community: the spirit of the conquered and that of the conqueror, the greatness of the ancient Mayan civilization side by side with the brutality of the Spanish conquistadors. Villegas then launches into a series of monologues that illustrate, like case studies, the facets of Latino culture he's laid out. Although all the characters are well drawn and performed, several are standouts. Jessie, the fast-food employee, spends his entire break bitching about the scrawniness of white women and the difficulty in getting a promotion due to his (obvious) lack of people skills, only to find out that his listener speaks only Spanish and hasn't understood a word he's said. And Joe, the bus driver with a Tex-Mex twang in his drawled r's, is ready to tangle with any passenger opposed to his passion for kitschy cowgirl music. The irony in these cultural miniclashes makes Barrio Daze not only comical, but clever as well.
Perhaps the most telling sketch is "The Hispanic," featuring a Latino Republican, Mr. Salazar (Sa-lay-zer), who works for the campaign of a racist political candidate. Despite sacrificing elements of his culture (his musical heritage, the pronunciation of his name, his identification with other Hispanics) to fit in with white society, Salazar's son is beaten up at the private school he attends for being a "wetback." Having sacrificed his own roots, the "Hispanic" ends up with no cultural home at all.
Adrian Villegas is truly a gem. His writing and performance abilities are capital, and his humor is superb (this is laugh-out-loud material); I was disappointed that every seat at the Dougherty was not filled on the night I attended. Barrio Daze is both absurdly funny and dead-on insightful, not only dissecting stereotypical views other groups hold of Hispanics, but challenging those Hispanics have applied to themselves. I look forward to Villegas' next performance with enthusiasm.