Lesbians bring 'Overlooked Latinas' to SF stage

  • by J.L. Odom
  • Wednesday September 13, 2023
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Mary Guzmán, left, will direct actor Tina D'Elia in "Overlooked Latinas," which opens at Theatre Rhinoceros next week. Photo: Tina D'Elia
Mary Guzmán, left, will direct actor Tina D'Elia in "Overlooked Latinas," which opens at Theatre Rhinoceros next week. Photo: Tina D'Elia

It all started 18 years ago, when director Mary Guzmán took in one of Tina D'Elia's onstage performances and decided she wanted to work with her.

"I went and saw a little bit onstage, and I listened and watched it. I thought, 'I could direct her better than him [D'Elia's director at the time].' So I was like, 'I need to bother her.' So I would just keep showing up for something else, and I'd show up for something else and then show up for something else," said Guzmán, who sat next to D'Elia in a video interview with Bay Area Reporter.

And the rest was herstory. They began working together on iterations of one of D'Elia's solo shows ("Groucho"); D'Elia later starred in award-winning filmmaker Guzmán's "Worst Case Scenario: Femme Edition." They also joined forces for various stage readings and performances in San Francisco venues such as Artists' Television Access, Galería de la Raza, and The Marsh.

"Mary has the versatility of directing film and narrative [and also] directing solo performance, which to me is so important because it's so specific and there's a lot of space/object work," said D'Elia, who identifies as a lesbian and queer.

Now, many collaborations later, the long-standing D'Elia-Guzmán team is bringing "Overlooked Latinas" to the Castro's Theatre Rhinoceros. The show, a sequel to D'Elia's "The Rita Hayworth of This Generation," premieres Thursday, September 21, and runs through October 1.

Written and performed by D'Elia and directed by Guzmán, "Overlooked Latinas" is a one-woman show, with that one woman — D'Elia — as the cast of many LGBTQ+ Latine characters.

The show's protagonist is Angel Torres, a Puerto Rican-Italian butch dyke who heads to New York City with her queer Latine best friend Carla Garcia to pitch a TV pilot to a network. The casting of a femme fatale "old flame" stirs things up as Angel directs her first television series on the not-so-light topic of McCarthyism's (i.e., the second Red Scare's) impact on mid-20th century Latine actors.

"I crafted 'Overlooked Latinas' as a telenovela queer farce — I wanted to write a comedy because comedy is really healing. But their show is very serious," said D'Elia.

After working on "Rita" in 2011, D'Elia conducted research that further illuminated the effects of the McCarthy era on Latine LGBTQ+ cinema stars.

"I feel like the stories haven't been told of queer Latinx folks of the past, like Ramon Novarro and Dolores del Río being bisexual and them all having a very strong sense of politics as far as wanting to have full-bodied characters with a lot of pride in their heritage onscreen," she explained.

"Overlooked Latinas" is minimalistic as far as prop use goes, featuring only chairs and a bottle of water placed onstage. A great deal of consideration goes into the different characters D'Elia plays, including where each of them is standing as she performs.

"I play multiple characters, so I can never act as though somebody just suddenly moved. I can't walk into people. I can't walk through desks — unless I'm a ghost," joked D'Elia.

She added, "That kind of specificity is really special and fun. For some people, it's just inherent, and for other people it kind of takes something. You have to be able to see people that are not there, as the solo performer and the director. Mary has that touch and knows where everybody is on the stage."

Guzmán, who identifies as a lesbian, keeps track of D'Elia's characters' placement in her directorial role, offering guidance and reminders when needed.

She noted, "I always say that directing Tina is like fine-tuning a Maserati — the Maserati's already perfect, and I'm just doing this [made sounds of fine tuning/tweaking], telling her, 'Well, your hand can't go here because remember that's so-and-so standing there.'"

Audiences will have numerous opportunities to witness D'Elia perform her cast of characters at the queer-centering Theatre Rhinoceros, also known as "the Rhino."

Founded in 1977, the theater has continually focused on ensuring the queer community has a stage on which to perform and convey their LGBTQ+ stories. "Overlooked Latinas" is the first show in the theater's 2023-2024 season lineup.

Fittingly, D'Elia's show is scheduled at the Rhino during National Hispanic Heritage Month, also known as Latinx Heritage Month. The annual celebration and recognition of Hispanic American culture, history and contributions starts September 15 and ends October 15.

D'Elia said, "I feel particularly lucky and grateful that in celebration and honor of Latinx Heritage Month, here we are."

She conveyed that it's important to center the Latine community within artistic spaces, as discrimination persists outside of them.

"The backlash kind of continues in waves, so it's much more than just 'visibility matters.' It's queer Latinas and queer Latinx stories that [are a] constant, whether it's blacklisting, throwing people in jail, or deporting people," she said. "So that was my hope when I first started writing the show — to keep showing the parallels and keep using film and theater as a tool and art as a tool."

Throughout the 75 minutes of D'Elia's carefully crafted show, the audience can expect not only to be entertained but to also attain a better understanding of Latine history and cultures, the women said.

"It's interesting; it's funny. ... And there's so much depth," said Guzmán, who described the director role of a show like "Overlooked Latinas" as a gift that keeps on giving and as a fond reminder of her Latine community and parents.

For both of them, National Hispanic Heritage Month is also a means to recognize the strength of and celebrate their enduring work partnership.

Explained D'Elia, "I also feel like this has been about our Latina lesbian team. Eighteen years collaborating together — not everybody can say that in the Bay Area. Mary and I, when we work together, we're always laughing, and I feel like the power of facing hate with love, humor, passion, and healing is so important."

Theatre Rhinoceros is located at 4229 18th Street in San Francisco. The "Overlooked Latinas" premier is Thursday, September 21, at 8 p.m. The show then runs from September 22 to October 1, with Friday and Saturday shows starting at 8 p.m. and Sunday shows starting at 3 p.m. Tickets are $35 and $17.50 for students, seniors, and veterans. For tickets call 415-552-4100 or click here.

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