WHS to present first-ever fully bilingual play
The Woodburn High School Theatre Department is premiering its first fully bilingual production, "La Gringa" by Carmen Rivera, on April 20. The play, which is a dramatic comedy about cultural identity, features two casts and patrons may choose to see the play performed in either English or Spanish.
The play follows Maria Elena Garcia, a young woman who goes to visit her extended family in Puerto Rico during the Christmas holidays with plans to connect with her homeland. Although this is her first trip to Puerto Rico, she has had an intense love for the island and even majored in Puerto Rican studies in college.
But once Maria is in Puerto Rico, she realizes that Puerto Rico does not welcome her with open arms. The majority of the Puerto Ricans on the island consider her an American — a gringa — and Maria considers this a betrayal. The play raises the question: If Maria is a Puerto Rican in the United States and an American in Puerto Rico, where does she belong?
Director Caleb Thurston, a theater teacher at Woodburn Arts and Communications Academy, said he decided to produce a fully bilingual play after a conversation with one of his students.
"A student came up to me after one of our plays last year and told me, 'My parents loved the show but they couldn't understand it,'" Thurston said. "That's a reality in the community."
Thurston chose "La Gringa" to be the school's first bilingual play because the theme of cultural identity was relevant to the students, and because there already existed Spanish and English versions of the play.
Evelyn Ramirez, a junior at WACA who is playing Maria in the Spanish production, said she's excited for her parents to be able to see her in a play that they can fully understand.
Ramirez was last seen in "Romeo and Juliet" and "The Secret Garden," so even though her Spanish-speaking parents can understand some English, the archaic language in those plays was hard for them to follow.
"They'll be able to follow the play," Ramirez said. "That means a lot to my family."
Ramirez also said the theme of the play is resonant with her and other members of the community.
"The lead comes into a place she thought she would fit in. But she goes to Puerto Rico and is told she's American," Ramirez said. "That's similar to people who have been told they're Mexican in America, but have been called American in Mexico. A lot of first-generation and second-generation Americans will relate to the play."
Edgar Nevarez, a WACA junior who is playing the character Manolo in the Spanish production, said he's excited for the entire Woodburn Spanish-speaking community to be able to see a play in Spanish.
"In our majority-minority community, people haven't had access to theater in their own language," Nevarez said.
Thurston said that while there won't be another fully bilingual play next school year, the theater department will be developing an original play for next spring that will have bilingual elements.
The English-speaking cast will perform April 20, 22 and 28 at 7 p.m. The Spanish-speaking cast will perform April 21, 27 and 29, also at 7 p.m.
All performances take place at the Woodburn High School lectorium. General admission tickets can be purchased at the door for $5. Woodburn School District employees are free. The play is recommended for middle school age and older. Optional brief talkback sessions with the actors and audience will follow select performances, which will allow the audience and cast members to discuss questions raised by the play and its themes.