Ah, the Majestic Gazellas

By Selene Santiago

Staff Writer

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Elizabeth Frances, Elia Saldaña, Bianca Lemaire. Photo: Blake Boyd

The Anatomy of Gazellas is the newest play by playwright Janine Salinas Schoenberg and lively directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera of Plawrights’ Arena fame.  It is a trippy ride through the life and mind of the mysteriously pregnant teen, Alex (delicately yet deeply performed by Elia Saldaña), as she journeys through the desert to reclaim a stolen past and embark on a mysterious future.

Her companions are wild and worldly Hopey and Maggie (undoubtedly inspired by the punk rock graphic novel protagonists from “Love and Rockets”) with costumes and makeup that are Mad Max meets Adam Ant meets Blade Runner.  Hopey and Maggie, twistedly played by Elizabeth Frances and Bianca Lemaire, are the human fire and brimstone of the pre-apocalyptic rain storm setting of the play.  It’s not made clear how or why the apocalypse has come about but one can gather that it is somehow tied to the coming birth of the very pregnant Alex.  The three women cross time and space represented by a minimalist set and intense music score that, at times, drowns the actors’ voices.

At the end of her travels, Alex finds herself at an evangelical transitional home run by a somehow robotic yet impassioned woman named Doña Lydia, played in monotone by Cristina Frias.  Alex and Doña Lydia immediately clash ideals much to the chagrin of Sandra, an incredibly intimidating chola (and I’m from Boyle Heights, I know my cholas) compellingly embodied by Carolyn Zeller.

Elia Saldaña,Cristina Frias, Chrstine Marie Mantilla, Jacqueline Real, Carolyn Zeller. Photo: Blake Boyd

Elia Saldaña, Cristina Frias, Chrstine Marie Mantilla, Jacqueline Real, Carolyn Zeller. Photo: Blake Boyd

During Alex’s stay and interaction with the other women of the house, the audience is given deeper insight into her difficult life —her complicated relationship with her mother and search for “shaman” grandmother.  Interestingly, Alex’s speech shifts from everyday vernacular with her friends Hopey and Maggie to encyclopedic and socially awkward at the home.  She learns about the other women at the home: the hilariously daft and prissy Melanie (Christine Marie Mantilla) and the damaged Gaby (Jacqueline Real).  Through unforeseen events, Alex fulfills her quest and the women are confronted with life beyond the confines of Doña Lydia’s walls.

Gazellas is the product of Schoenberg’s interest in urban storefront church movements that she explored as a member of Center Theater Group’s 2010 Writer’s Workshop, and her research on transitional housing for women released from prison.  I couldn’t help but note the all female cast and somehow feel a sense of kinship and immediate willingness to join their fascinating exploration of how religion intersects with the prison system.  Gazellas is one of the more interesting and creative works I’ve seen on stage in a while.  Go check it out.

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The Anatomy of Gazellas
Written by Janine Salinas Schoenberg
Directed by John Lawrence Rivera

Playwrights’ Arena at Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90039

Performances:
April 26 to May 19, 2013
Fridays and Saturdays – 8:00pm, Sundays – 3:00pm

Tickets:
(800) 838-3006. http://gazellas.brownpapertickets.com

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