Culture star of 'Speak Spanish to Me'
April 22, 2008
by Kerry Lengel - The Arizona RepublicSpeak Spanish to Me is culture-clash satire about a romance between two freshmen, one Anglo and one Latino, at Arizona State University. If that sounds tailor-made for a Valley audience, it is.
"I was looking for a certain kind of play and couldn't find one," says Matthew Wiener, artistic director of Actors Theatre. "It's being written to spec, kind of."
The world-premiere comedy was written by Bernardo Solano, who was born in Colombia and raised in the States with an Ivy League education. It was "kind of " written to spec because it started as a one-act from his college days, inspired by the true story of a Chicano student at Harvard who responded to the pressures of his own culture-clash experience by robbing convenience stores. "What we have now is a very different story," says Solano, who lives and works in Los Angeles. "That particular version was a very angry play."
Years later, after he got a call from Wiener, the playwright developed it into a comedy about cultural stereotypes. The romance is between a blue-collar girl from Maine who's drawn to an exotically scruffy Mexican-American whom she imagines to be the son of migrant workers.
He's not. He comes from a well-off, conservative Phoenix family and dresses down because he doesn't want to stick out as a rich snob. It's one of several reversals of stereotypical expectation that drive the comedy.
"This play is about learning to be comfortable enough within your own skin and accepting and embracing the other cultures that are around you, and not being so afraid of something that's a little foreign to your own experience," Solano says. "This version is much more of a love story and reflects the dialogue between the Anglo and Latino cultures."
Although there's a fair amount of much-ado zaniness in the piece, the central theme is a serious one, he says.
"We have impressions of 'the other' and fears, (but) ultimately it's all very personal and transcends cultural differences and class differences and religion and money. If we're going to survive and flourish, it has to be on a one-on-one basis."
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