‘Más’ depicts fiery fight

March 17, 2016 1:45 PM

Laney Theatre heats up with a tale of smoke and mirrors

“Más”, by Mita Ortiz, is a true story about the struggle of high school students in Tucson, Ariz., who tried to install Mexican American Studies (MAS) program into the high school curriculum.
The script is derived from interviews, media coverage, and court documents. The narrative begins with MAS’s inception and progresses into its practice, the disharmony within that sparked public controversy, and finally the dismantling of the program by a conservative Arizona legislature in 2010.
The play opens in a sweat lodge; four brightly colored dancers take center stage, ladeling water onto sizzling red-hot burning books that represent the banned books of Arizona schools. Each of the four colors represents one of four deities from Central American folklore that embody the natural forces of life: reflection and reconciliation, knowledge, will, and transformation.


The production “Más”, by Mita Ortiz, is playing now at the Laney Theatre.

Young people from indigenous families are often denied an education of their rich cultural heritage. The developers of the Mexican American Studies program in the Tucson high school might not have known the profound effect it would have on the students whose lives it touched. Where we come from is a fundamental part of who we are. It gave students a deeper richer sense of their traditions and culture, which served to empower as well as educate. One young woman tells her story of the horrors of sexual abuse. We get a sense that her life was salvageable in part because she was finally able to tell her own story that had been locked inside.
“MAS”, like the sweat lodge, provided a safe environment that would enable her to move on and give her the power to make a future for herself. It explained to students many of their unanswered questions with regard to their place in the world: past, present and future.
We return to the sweat lodge intermittently, led by indigenous characters who ladle metaphorical water onto sizzling red rocks. But the setting’s outside walls now serve as columns of public discord. The political climate of growing intolerance, xenophobia and racism threatens to close in on the Mexican American Studies program. The attorney stands tall on her crutches, arguing a case for the program. But MAS loses to public opinion that continues to degrade American education in the paranoia of bureaucracy.
“MAS” is a two-hour Fusion Theatre project that merges the Magic and Shotgun Theatres and with Laney’s Theatre Department. There is no single starring role. There are no scene changes. There is no intermission.
This is a two-hour docudrama about the birth and death of a high school ethnic studies program, the sprawling narrative that uses dramatic devices to change settings back and forth from a Native American sweat lodge to the classroom to individual students—and then the forum of popular opinion.
“MAS” is the type of narrative that recalls Teatro Campesino, the dramatic ensemble that traveled throughout the California Central Valley and staged productions designed to raise American people’s and other migrant workers’ awareness of the plight of farm workers.
Here is the story of the oppressed and the oppressors. This sprawling narrative keeps the soul of a movement alive.

March 17-19 at the Laney College Theatre
For more information, email: mtorres(at)peralta.edu.
($15 at the door)

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