Trans/Acting: Latin American and Latino Performing Arts
This collection of fourteen essays and one performance script deploys multiple meanings of the prefix "trans" to bring together a wide range of perspectives on Latin American and US Latino intercultural theatre and performance provided by some of the most significant scholars in the field. The anthology grew out of the 6th Conference on Latin American Theatre Today, held in 2005 at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. The text of Guillermo Gómez-Peña's keynote performance, "Mexterminator vs. The Global Predator," crowns the volume with a hilarious though painfully true monologue that was written to skewer former president George W. Bush and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but that is just as applicable to the current Barack Obama and Jerry Brown administrations, given how little borderland battles have changed.
Laurietz Seda's introduction and her essay "Trans/Acting Bodies: Guillermo Gómez-Peña's Search for a Singular Plural Community" define "trans/act" as
negotiation and/or exchange while in the act of performing. To trans/act is to open up possibilities and to be open to possibilities of mediation, transformation, or transgression within, across, and beyond the absolutist limits and definitions that attempt to control subjectivities. To trans/ act is consciously to opt for a ceaseless process of reinventing and redefining the art of living "in-between," to avoid succumbing to commodification or to the very paradigms and binaries that this process places in question.(17)
The succeeding essays take up this definition, moving from crossings between space and nation in the Southern Cone, to crossings between genre and media in Cuba and Mexico, and to crossings that involve gender and sexuality in both Argentina and in the US-Mexico borderlands.
The late George Woodyard's "Transformation and Transculturation in Twentieth-Century Latin American Theater" historically situates the complex discussions that follow with a useful overview of Latin American theatre's international connections to Europe and Asia. The next two essays, Sharon Magnarelli's "Transitional Stages: Space and Illusion in Las polacas by Patricia Suárez" and Sarah Misemer's "Transgressing Spaces: Within, Without, and Beyond the Stage and Uruguay in Gabriel Peveroni's Theater," both consider the fascinating phenomenon of plays that simultaneously evoke two different countries in the same space. In her analysis of the three short plays that comprise Las polacas (The Polish women, 2002), which take place in Poland and aboard a ship on the Atlantic yet simultaneously evoke Argentina, Magnarelli explores how Suárez uses space to highlight "illusions and theatrics that, in the broader sociopolitical context, have (mis)represented home and homeland as safe havens" (38). Misemer also takes up the issue of space in her analysis of two plays by Peveroni that [End Page 656] similarly complicate the idea of a clearly bounded nation: Sarajevo esquina Montevideo (El puente) (Sarajevo on the corner with Montevideo [The bridge], 2003) and El hueco (una tribu urbana) (The hole [an urban tribe], 2004). She argues persuasively that the plays redeploy traditional Uruguayan themes like immigration, politics, and the economy in innovative frameworks that superimpose national and international spaces (56).
Bixler's "The Politics of Tradaptation in the Theater of Sabina Berman" and Camilla Stevens's "Theater Transformations: Reading Race in Abelardo Estorino's Parece blanca" both focus on adaptations. Bixler borrows the term "tradaptation" from French Canadian director Robert Lepage and enhances its political potential by using it to elucidate Mexican playwright Sabina Berman's transformation of an Irish play, Marie Jones's Stones in His Pockets (1999), into a critique of globalization's destruction of Mexican cultural identity. Bixler's analysis underscores the difficulty of artistic resistance to commodification, as she notes the irony that Berman's production exemplified the commercially successful importation of a European cultural product. She concludes, however, that "tradaptation can be just as political and at the same time just as Mexican as the nondomestic original" (87). Stevens's analysis of Parece blanca (She seems white, 1994) considers adaptation not across national borders, but across centuries and genres, since Estorino's play reworks the novel Cecilia Valdés, a nineteenth-century classic by Cirilo Villaverde. Stevens illuminates how Estorino's theatrical adaptation and its various stagings serve to critique contemporary race relations in both Cuba and the Cuban diaspora.
Stuart Day's "Transposing Professions: Vicente Leñero and the Politics of the Press" puts the metaphor of transposing music from one key into another to good use in demonstrating how Leñero's play Nadie sabe nada (No one knows anything, 1988) can be read as a parody of the nonfictional handbook for journalists Leñero penned in his other career as a journalist and professor of journalism. In her contribution, Amalia Gladhart explores the act of negotiation across psychic borders; her essay, "Transference and Negotiation: Sabina Berman Plots Dora and Freud," connects the concept of psychological transference both to the themes of Berman's play Feliz nuevo siglo, Doktor Freud (Happy new century, Doctor Freud, 2000) and to the experiences of performers and audiences.
One of the most provocative essays to focus on media crossings is Gail Bulman's "Transferring Terms, Translating Sin: The Search for Meaning in Rafael Spregelburd's La estupidez," which examines interplay between theatre and visual art. Bulman reveals how, in La estupidez (2000) (Stupidity, or Greed, as Bulman translates the title, in reference to Spregelburd's focus on the stupidity of avarice), Spregelburd uses Hieronymus Bosch's fifteenth-century painting The Seven Deadly Sins to parody both an Argentinean and a global obsession with financial gain.
Gastón Alzate tackles questions of gender and nation in a translocal context in "Paquita la del Barrio and Translocal Theatricality: Performing Counter(post)modernity," which shows how the Mexican singer challenges Latino machismo on both sides of the US-Mexican border, and exposes the oppressive gender structures within US-influenced Latin American media. In the essay "Standing in Cultural Representation: Latino Stand-Up and The Original Latin Kings of Comedy," Guillermo Irizarry scrutinizes the commodification of ethnic and gender stereotypes among Latino stand-up comedians. Finally, Becky Boling and William García both offer engaging commentaries on gender-bending performances in their respective essays, "Performing Gender in . . . Y a otra cosa mariposa" (Y a otra cosa mariposa [That's all that] by Susana Torres Molina, 1981) and "Dragging the Borders: Transnational Queer Identities and Citizenship in Guillermo Reyes's Deporting the Divas."
Seda's description of trans/acting's potential for resistance to commodification seems perhaps overly optimistic, but this does not detract from the importance of Bixler and Seda's central insight that negotiation and exchange are a crucial part of the many border crossings-not just race, nation, class, gender, and sexuality, but also genre and medium-undertaken by intercultural playwrights and performers today. Bixler and Seda, as well as the other scholars anthologized here, provide excellent models for how researchers might approach further inquiry into such negotiations.