Are you ready to party?
Last spring, Mixed Blood Theatre transformed itself into a strip club to match the subject matter of a daring new play by Katori Hall. This spring, the venerable playhouse on Minneapolis’ West Bank is being reconfigured into an immersive nightclub for another themed production.
“DJ Latinidad,” which premieres Friday, is a dance party celebration of Hispanic culture. Directed by Mark Valdez, the show is an anthology of vignettes and playlets by the likes of Dominican-American Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz, Chicano playwrights Octavio Solis and Virginia Grise, Cuban-American writer Michael John Garces and self-described Sota-Rican (Minnesota/Puerto Rican) vocalist Maria Isa.
How Hispanics see themselves has changed significantly in the years that Mixed Blood has been commissioning Latino playwrights to craft works based on myth, history or experience.
“We used to get things back that are bilingual or in Spanish,” said Mixed Blood founder Jack Reuler. “Not this year. Everything we got back was in English. And the subject matter was surprising.”
In ways obvious and subtle, Hispanic culture is now firmly part of the American mainstream. Two credible Latinos — Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — are vying for the Republican presidential nomination. Salsa has surpassed ketchup as the nation’s No. 1 condiment and more tortilla chips than potato chips are sold.
That change is also evident in how Hispanic artists see, and assert, themselves.
“I can’t speak for all Latinos, but we’re regular people dealing with regular issues, and have always been,” said Solis. “We always used to look to Cuban-Americans and say, ‘They’re the Republicans.’ That’s not true anymore. Same with Mexican-Americans — we’re all supposed to have a picture of Kennedy on our walls next to Guadalupe. But politically, culturally, musically, we’re all over the map.”
Solis’ 10-minute contribution to “Latinidad” is an homage to San Francisco of the ’70s and ’80s. It is called “Last Day Ever,” and is set on the Day of the Dead as an old hippie wants to revisit all his favorite haunts, from strip clubs to Chinese restaurants.
Playwright Grise, born in Georgia to a Chinese-Mexican mother and a white father, grew up in San Antonio, where, she noted, geography and identity are historically fluid.
“Many Latinos were in Texas when Texas was part of Mexico,” she said. “The border crossed them before they crossed the border.”
Her three pieces in the show are titled “The Lover,” “ESL” and “Dream.” They are, Grise said, “about home and movement and being in a place that doesn’t feel familiar.”
Garces, the artistic director of Cornerstone Theater in Los Angeles, was born in Miami to a Cuban father and Minnesota mother and was raised in Bogota, Colombia. His contribution to “Latinidad” is called “Americanas” and it centers on three Latinas having a night out.
“These three women are competing to see who is the most macho,” he said. “They all sing macho songs from their backgrounds and they’re all pretty badass. I wanted to get away from the virgin/whore paradigm and these other received notions of what a Latina should be.”
That fits with the theme of the show, where music will be spun by pioneering hip-hop DJ BreakBeat Lou, and the genres that he’ll draw from include salsa, bolero, reggaeton, house, punk and emo.
“He scratches out the songs to match the dialogue,” said director Valdez, who also conceived and shaped the piece. “The stories emerge from the music.”
“Latinidad,” which takes its name from an academic study of Latin culture, will certainly provide plenty of provocative ideas to ponder. But it’s also about a party.
“For something that’s so heady, it’s also a fun, kinetic experience,” said Valdez.
Who: Conceived and directed by Mark Valdez.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 9 p.m. Fri., 7:30 & 9:30 p.m. Sat. Ends March 26.
Where: Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. 4th St., Mpls.
Tickets: $20 guaranteed admission. Free rush line. 612-338-6131 or mixedblood.com.