By Dale Reynolds
With the rise of Latinx artists in film, television and theatre, meeting some of the better ones is a privilege and a pleasure. So, go ahead, meet Edward Torres, 54, a native of Chicago, Illinois, co-founder and former artistic director of Teatro Vista for the past eighteen years. And as one might expect, being in such a position, he willingly brings along other Latinx artists: playwrights, directors, and actors.
In Los Angeles this time around, he is directing the third of the Quiara Alegría Hudes Elliot Trilogy’s, The Happiest Song Plays Last, at the downtown Los Angeles Theatre Center through March 19th. Torrez has known the writer for some years as he was in the Chicago production of Elliot: A Soldier’s Fugue, a drama that was short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize when it debuted at the Hartford Stage in Connecticut. “She’s a really good writer, with her three plays currently being produced around the country, and other plays at the Curious Theatre/Denver, Court Theatre/Chicago, the Old Globe Theatre/San Diego, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and the Orange Country Shakespeare Festival/Garden Grove, among other outlets, which show her worth.”
The Trilogy (Elliot: A Soldier’s Fugue, Water By The Spoonful), that won a Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2012; and “The Happiest Song Plays Last”), all of which deal with a young Puertoricaño, Elliot, beginning when he’s 18, reflecting Hudes’ fascination with Latinx soldiers and sailors in the U.S. armed forces: Elliot in the Middle East; his father in Vietnam; and his grandfather in Korea. According to Torres, she allows us to see the other side of Latinx involvement in America’s wars. “Sometimes it’s patriotism; sometimes just economic. There’s a truth in her writing; a simplicity around truth told in a poetic way, allowing her to get quickly to the heart of the matter. She tells stories that are universal; what these characters have lived through, including healing and recovery; moving forward, in addition to coloring them with the musical sounds of Puerto Rico (Jibaro, Spanish, Arabic), with an influence on American jazz.”
Los Angeles audiences are able to see the three plays in quick succession at the Kirk Douglas (Elliot), the Mark Taper Forum (Water) and at the LATC (Happiest).
Torres is very much of the Theatre: actor, director, producer and teacher; he is married to an actress, Karen Aldredge, with a son who is an actor/musician Joshua Torres. He’s also an Assistant Professor of the Practice of Theatre at Wesleyan University/Middletown, Connecticut, where his wife is a visiting professor (in Heighten Text) as well. Where playwright Hudes teaches as well. He feels very lucky at having the chance to associate himself with contemporary Latinx theatre, as well as non-Hispanic plays, both at his theatre in Chicago and at Wesleyan. “I love being able to explore the theatrical universe, especially with generationally new playwrights.”
Part of that joy is exploring how the different generations of Latino and Latina playwrights have such different views on integration, discrimination, and the future. “The Millennials are aware of how different the Latinx populations are – in skin-color, mixed-races, and language. We are filled with subcultures, so we don’t necessarily need a Puertoricaño actor to play Elliot, for instance, as Quiana’s stories are universal. I believe in giving all Latinx actors the opportunity to play others than just themselves – my experience has taught me to cast the best actor who can embody the character. And so far, I’ve had no tribal [political] problems with that, especially since I don’t subscribe to a narrowness in that kind of thinking.”
It’s clear from his involvement in Elliot #3 that seeing Hudes’ Trilogy is to see a story that is epic in scope. “The three productions stand alone, but by seeing them in tandem, you get so much more out of the experiences she is observing.”
Written by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Directed by Edward Torres
Previews: Feb. 17-18 & 20-21
Opening: Thursday, Feb. 22
Performances: Feb. 17 to Mar. 19; Fri & Sat at 8 PM, Sun at 3 PM; Mon at 7:30 PM
With: Vaneh Assadourian, Elisa Bocanegra, Kamal Marayati, Peter Pasco, Al Rodrigo, and John Seda-Pitre