Friday, June 15, 2012

THEATER REVIEW / 'Glass Cord': The Double Standard - By Ely Rosa Zamora (Special for Hispanic New York)

Marion Elaine, and Victoria Wallace (center, as Lupe). Backstage musicians: Nelson M Cabassa and Ines Mangual Cabassa. Photo: Courtesy Evelyn Díaz Cruz

In Glass Cord, playwright Evelyn Díaz Cruz brings us a vivid picture of the Latin male chauvinist culture, where men prove their masculinity by having extra-marital relationships while women are expected to be chaste.

Examining the complexities and implications of machismo, Cruz doesn’t just show us how the twisted “values” that still keep women oppressed are passed on by so many mothers who raise their girls to be subservient of men, she explores the very concept of maternal instinct.

Women are expected to feel the so-called maternal instinct, regardless of the circumstances of their pregnancies, while the catholic religion punishes women for having an abortion. Indeed, abortion is still illegal in most Latin American countries.

In the play, Cuca recalls the moment when she gave birth to her daughter, Lupe: “I remember how my tears came flooding down and everyone thought I was overcome with emotion from the love I was feeling for my baby.  Un embuste!  And I let them all think they were tears of joy.  Only I knew that I was feeling nothing and that was why I was really crying.”

If what we call “maternal instinct” is just the drive to preserve ourselves as a species, why is the responsibility for it only put on women? Why are men not judged just as harshly for not having such a feeling?
  
Lupe, an eighteen year-old high school senior from the Bronx, dreams of going to an Ivy League university. For her, leaving the environment where she grew up is the only way to achieve freedom.  But after years of dedicated study, her dream is jeopardized when she is impregnated by her neighbor Manny, an older married cop who also seduces Lupe’s mother, Cuca.

Manny offers to pay for an abortion.  But despite the horror of her personal tragedy, in the eyes of society Lupe is the only one guilty.  She finds herself not only humiliated, but with her dream imperiled.

The story, just like real life, is a big tangled loop that keeps perpetuating itself until awareness and education become powerful enough to begin to straighten it out.

Although it may sound like a stereotypical soap opera plot, it is very far from being one because Lupe, the main character, does not compromise with what her culture and her “destiny” have waiting for her. Determined to succeed no matter what, she challenges a male-dominated society, using her inner strength and determination to break the dysfunctional cycle of her upbringing and free herself to follow her dream of becoming an educated woman.

The play is written with courage and honesty. Glass Cord is set on a rooftop in the Bronx during the searing 1970s. Its controversial plot is rich in Puerto Rican cultural symbolism, mixed with a New York urban landscape where the making of glass cords and the training of pigeons are metaphors for the life of the community.

Perhaps in an attempt to draw a larger audience and leave the polemic debate about abortion open, the ending is a bit ambiguous, causing some confusion.  We could think of this as a weak spot (I personally wanted to hear Lupe’s voice loud and clear screaming for her rights), it could also be an invitation to focus on the unfair values that remain in our culture, rather than turning the play into a pro-choice argument. 

Cruz, who is an Associate Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies at the University of San Diego, focuses her study and practice of theatre on empowering communities by addressing issues of social justice through art. Her play is an inspiration to reinvent community theatre.

Venezuelan director Aminta de Lara, who received the HOLA Award in 2011 for Best Director, ingeniously keeps the rhythm of the play going for more than two hours without intermission. She manages to smoothly incorporate live Bomba music and dance into the emotional transitions of the characters, which makes the play very enjoyable despite the density of the dialogues, and handles the space with precision and insight.

The cast does a truly amazing job of keeping the characters alive and believable. Victoria Wallace deserves particular mention for her outstanding performance as Lupe.

Glass Cord was performed at Teatro La Tea: 107 Suffolk Street, NYC, from May 3rd – May 20th, 2012, with the following cast directed by Aminta de Lara: Robert Ramos, Victoria Wallace, Marion Elaine, Lorraine Rodríguez-Reyes, Howard Collado. Music by: Ines Manugal Cabassa and Nelson M Cabassa. Dancer: Yelimara Concepción Santos.

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