Vicki Grise’s play blu depicts the struggles of barrio life through voices seldom heard in American theater. It has been performed in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles to critical acclaim, but though the New York-based writer claims San Antonio as her home, the 2010 Yale Drama Award-winning play — chosen by playwright David Hare from over 950 submissions — has yet to receive a full production in this town.
Last Friday, March 22, blu was given the stage in San Antonio in a concert reading (a staged reading accompanied by live music). It was only a one-night stand, but hopefully our local theaters will take notice and give this important piece its due.
Author and Current reviewer Gregg Barrios was on hand to see the performance.
– Scott Andrews
Blu is vital theater.
A full house at the Guadalupe Theatre greeted a late night concert reading of blu directed by its playwright, Virginia Grise. The audience watched and listened as a cast of local actors and ¡Aparato!, a trio of L. A. musicians, kept them under the spell of a powerful performance.
It is rare when a theater/teatro piece addresses the concerns and stories of the Latino-majority population here or in our sister city of Los Angeles, aka the capital of the third world. The play is set in a “Barrio U.S.A,” a place where residents nightly endure police helicopters with their invasive searchlights patrolling the area as if it were a city under siege.
The play focuses on a Mexican American family that lives there. We quickly learn that the father Eme is doing hard time, while the hard-working mother Soledad has in his absence taken on a lesbian lover, Hailstorm. The three siblings from her marriage are Blu, a Marine serving in Iraq; Lunatico, a conflicted young gang member; and Gemini, the young daughter with a secret and a dream.
It is Gemini’s story that captivates us early on. The image of a young Latina on the roof of the house gazing at the stars has found its way in so many works about young people aspiring to both understand their world and their place in it (think the film Selena) that this could easily slip into cliché. Yet the world shown is the antithesis of the Hollywood version that has ill-defined nuestra gente for too long.
Despite being rooted in the realistic world, Grise prefers to imbue her play and characters with dance, music, and movement employing jump cuts, flashbacks and fast-forwards that echo Ntozake Shange’s dramatic prose poem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Grise’s lyrical text with its poetic flights of fancy and overlaps of dialogue repeated and looped to introduce characters are pitch perfect and often effect a Greek chorus. (Both Eme and Hailstorm seduce Soledad with the same litanies of love).
In playwright David Hare’s introduction to the Yale Drama Series edition of blu, he states that as the number of women dramatists expands, “There will also follow a freedom from any obligation for the depiction of their own gender to be either exemplary or representative.” Balderdash! That moment in underrepresented communities of color is neither here or now. I do, however, hope that Grise’s male characters in future works will be just as strong and mature as her women now are, along with the realization that pain and tragedy often come from without, and not from within.
We’re in this together — unidos. Viva el teatro!