Teatro Milagro at Oregon Contemporary Theatre, 10.8

Teatro Milagro’s national touring production of ‘Searching for Aztlán’, written & directed by Lakin Valdez, (son of Luis Valdez), was a rare treat.

Presented by Lane Arts Council, he performance took place Friday, Oct 9th at Oregon Contemporary Theatre to a sold-out (and enthusiastic) house.

The bilingual play, Searching for Aztlán, begins in 2012 with the Tucson school board’s acceptance of HB 2281, shutting down Mexican American Studies and removing its books from classrooms. A giant dust storm, or “haboob,” strikes the city and leaves Dolores Huelga (played with aplomb by Monica Domena), a teacher, unemployed and in an alternate reality. Lost in the desert, Dolores sets out on a quest for the mythical city of Aztlán.

The play brilliantly interweaves Huelga’s story with the familiar ‘Wizard of Oz’, as subtle musical cues and clever narrative structure help us to find the road map that Huelga’s not in Arizona anymore…

In her search for the mythic land, Huelga encounters updated versions of Dorothy’s friends. The scarecrow is an illegal immigrant (Giovanni Alva). The tin man is a woman who’s of Mexican-American origin, but who doesn’t speak Spanish, and whose family has completely negated their own cultural past (Shenekah Telles). The cowardly lion is a militant Chicano organizer who’s been piddling around Aztlán since the 1970’s (Ajai Terrazas-Tripathi). Together, this motley crew set off on a journey towards self-discovery and societal change.

The cast is remarkable. With not much more than a hand-painted backdrop and a few costume changes, they create a variety of settings and moods. From the State Board of Education, where Huelga attempts to defend the purpose of teaching Mexican American history and literature to predominantly Mexican American students, to the borderlands between the US and Mexico, to the mythical land itself, each step is populated by fully-developed and relatable characters.

As playwrights, the group employs humor, an ease and comfort with the material that makes their work human and accessible. And seeing a show that slipped, so effortlessly, between Spanish and English, was a remarkable experience. I understand a little Spanish, my date – my 13-yr-old daughter – not a word. Yet she comprehended the entire show, and loved it.

On the way home, she asked me to let her know the next time something that Teatro Milagro would be in town.

“Because I’m into activism and education, mom,” she said.

I hope that the group would consider a return trip soon.

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