- Contemporary Latina/o Theater: Wrighting Ethnicity
Jon D. Rossini's Contemporary Latina/o Theater: Wrighting Ethnicity arrives as a significantly synthetic achievement, a book that both recasts the historiography of US Latina/o dramaturgy as it also affirms "the power of theatricality as a means of understanding, exploring and rethinking ethnicity" (1). Through a series of chapters arranged in loose chronology, Rossini's analysis develops important points of dynamic continuity among some of the most widely studied, anthologized, and produced US Latina/o playwrights of the last several decades. Interspersed amidst astute, chapter-length critical assessments of such playwrights as Miguel Piñero, Luis Valdez, José Rivera, and Cherríe Moraga, Rossini also inserts chapters detailing his thorough explication of two iconic and recurring character types—the Pachuco and the Border Agent—within US Latina/o dramaturgy. Throughout, Rossini argues persuasively for a broadly comparative critical approach to US Latina/o drama, one as equally attentive to the aesthetic, ethnic, [End Page 276] and historical specificity of disparate Latina/o groups in the United States as it is to the productive Pan-ethnic affinities affirmed by the aggregate ethnoracial designation of "Latino."
Rossini's Contemporary Latina/o Theater also emerges as one of the only book-length scholarly studies of US Latina/o dramaturgy to chart the legacy of the chicano teatro for Puerto Rican, Cuban, and other Latina/o ethnic playwrights. Likewise, Rossini's study stands as one of the few studies of Latina/o playwriting to integrate serious comparative analysis of the work of commercially successful theatrical writers like John Leguizamo and Rick Najera alongside more literary dramatists like José Rivera and Cherríe Moraga. As such, Rossini's study enacts a boldly and productively synthetic vision of US Latina/o playmaking, one in which points of historical, ethnic, or aesthetic disparity operate as nodes of dynamic continuity rather than as easily ossified lines of generic distinction.
Rossini's core critical intervention in Contemporary Latina/o Theater: Wrighting Ethnicity, however, is signaled by the appearance of the word wrighting in the book's subtitle. Rossini's notion of "wrighting ethnicity" effects a homonymic collapse of three distinct verbs—to write, to wright, and to right. For Rossini, each of these aural cognates describes a distinct facet of the work done by US Latina/o playwrights, and Rossini's deployment of the term wrighting instantiates a strategic and critical combination of all three. "Wrighting," Rossini notes, "is thus a simultaneous correction, revision, and cultural repositioning in the act of creating a new conceptual framework" (10). In Rossini's configuration, then, "wrighting" describes the act of "writing" a playscript not only as a display of aesthetic craft (an act of "wrighting") but also as a simultaneously corrective intervention (an act of "righting") within the conventionalized field of theatrical representation.
Although Rossini's notion of "wrighting" might be productively applied to the work of any playwright from any cultural or national background, Contemporary Latina/o Theater emphasizes the term's especial utility as a critical device for assessing the multivalent modes of creative labor engaged by US Latina/o theater artists as they "wright" plays. For the playwrights featured in his study, Rossini contends that theater, drama, and theatricality cohere as "a crucial site for wrighting: a space for creating knowledge about people and places" (209). In this way, Rossini's analysis departs from commonplace assessments of US Latina/o drama as the theatrical reflection of distinct Latina/o cultures in the United States or as the expression of US Latina/o cultural identity. Instead, Rossini argues that US Latina/o "wrighters" like Miguel Piñero, Luis Valdez, José Rivera, and Cherríe Moraga compose their theatrical worlds as conceptual interventions in the ongoing theoretical and historical debates over the racialized contours of ethnicity. [End Page 277]
For Rossini, the notion of "wrighting" connotes aesthetic, cultural, and conceptual labor and, in affirming Latina/o playwrights as "wrighters," Rossini also insists upon the Latina/o playwright's importance as a cultural theorist as well as a theatrical...