The joy of the season in Greater LA increases with holiday performances that move well beyond the traditional. Scrooge and Nutcracker will always draw crowds as each generation discovers the Dickensian miser and the thrill of the ballet. In our smaller theatres, gems are being produced. Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro scored with A Very Special Holiday Special! and Zombie Joe’s Underground spoofed Thanksgiving with Eat Your Turkey, a bill of lewd, crude and rude short plays that are beyond description, at least for this article.
Add The Latina Christmas Special to the growing list. The Latino Theater Company’s offering proffers three excellent comedians, Maria Russell, Diana Yanez and Sandra Valls, who regale the audience with unique family stories from their individual pasts. Created by Ms.Yanez and directed by Geoffrey Rivas, the show opened on the night I saw it with the vivacious Diana Yanez detailing the family life of her Cuban refugee parents, who bravely fled Cuba after the revolution with literally only the clothes on their backs. Adapting to the new country, they joined in on the Christmas celebration in their own unique way, recreating the cold winter motifs of snow and Santa as best they could in the tropical climate of Miami. The stories are hilarious and touching as she holds up the influences that guided their celebration, especially that of Donny and Marie Osmond’s Christmas Special, the entertainers flashing their gleaming smiles dressed in snow-white sweaters with a Christmas tree on the front.
Sandra Valls’ story is that of a young Mexican American girl who tended toward the behavior of what was then called that of a Tom Boy. Her disappointment at being given “Farah Fawcett’s Glamour Center” instead of a truck or an “Etch A Sketch” is palpable. It is not easy growing up different. But the love of her mother sustained her. Her turn on stage is filled with ironic humor and revelations that touch the heart. And she plays the piano and sings with powerful soul.
As for Maria Russell, the third leg of this triad, she was missing in action. Her booking on an episode of Teen Wolf ran unexpectedly long. To paraphrase Ms. Yanez’ ironic announcement at the start of the show, it’s the sad fate of a working actress. Judging only from the photographs, I am betting she is dynamite. I don’t feel at all short changed. The show I saw, filled with laughs and passion, is terrific. Go see these women turn on the comedy, which is leavened with sweet and bittersweet remembrance.
The Latina Christmas Special runs through December 18 at The Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles.