Peel back the layered cornhusks of ‘Tamales de Puerco’ at Casa 0101

By Armand Huipe

Staff Writer

Tamales_Photo 22 - (l to r) Cristal Gonzalez (Norma Morales) and Miriam Peniche (Tana) in TDP_A069 copy

Tamales de Puerco by Mercedes Floresislas is a trilingual play about Norma (Cristal Gonzalez), a mother, and Maurico (Olin Tonatiuh*), her deaf son, surviving and thriving in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights. Norma experiences domestic violence at the hands of her husband, Reynaldo Ramirez (Arturo Aranda). When he rejects Mauricio, Norma finds the strength to leave their plush home. Turned away by her mother (Mercedes Floresislas), Norma and Maurico go from the street to homeless shelters to a small apartment where they avoid the authorities and Reynaldo. Although their situation is tenuous, they survive by selling tamales and learn American Sign Language (ASL) from Alcoholic’s Anonymous meetings. The fragile stability in the family’s life is disrupted by Norma’s past.

I am fluent in English and Spanish, but was apprehensive about how much of the show would be in American Sign Language (ASL). Supertitles provide both English and Spanish translations guiding the audience through the play’s emotional and comedic scenes.

The production overcomes some early pacing issues when Miriam Peniche comes on stage as Tana, Norma’s street vending comadre. Gonzalez and Peniche have a fabulous chemistry, dishing out some barrio curbside comedy. A sweet relationship lies underneath, which fills the absence of Norma’s birth family. The play weaves together multiple dimensions of identity and hardship into the experience of the characters without contradicting itself. As an example, Norma is unencumbered by her identity as a single mother, illegal immigrant, or battered woman. Instead, the facets of her background complement each other creating a full and compelling character. She is a woman with her own ambitions for her child and for herself.

Tamales_Photo 14 - (l to r) Lynn Moran (Karla) and Cristal Gonzalez (Norma Morales) in Casa TDP_A426 copy

Similarly Lynn Moran brings a multitude of dimensions to Karla, an entirely deaf character.  Karla is a very accomplished woman, smart, astute and unwilling to lose an argument. And though her performance is so silent you can sometimes hear the buzz of the air conditioning, it is not any less powerful. Also silent throughout the show, Olin Tonatiuh plays an endearing Mauricio Morales, Norma’s deaf son.

This play depicts Latina/os in situations that are not commonly shown. It is moving to witness the language barriers that exist for the deaf and it’s easy to draw parallels to the language barriers of recently arrived Mexican immigrants. Before the family learns ASL there are moments when Mauricio’s isolation is much more extreme than an English-Spanish language barrier, but it is part of his identity and creates the opportunity for Norma and Mauricio to build a community. I appreciated that the deaf characters were not defined by their lack of hearing, but by their personalities and values.

* Mauricio is the only role that is double cast; Tonatiuh shares this role with Jaden Delgado.

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Tamales de Puerco
Written by Mercedes Floresislas
Directed by Edward Padilla

The New Casa 0101 Theater
2102 E. First Street (at St. Louis Street)
Boyle Heights, CA 90033

Performances: April 5-28, 2013
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 5:00pm

Tickets: $20 General Admission, $17 Seniors, $15 Students/Boyle Heights Residents

Advance reservations are highly recommended.

Theatre patrons can receive $2 discounts by presenting their Metro Bus Cards at the Box Office when buying tickets.