Today: Apr 21, 2024

Story of three famous latinas told through music and dance

photo courtesy Southernct.eduFrida Kahlo was not only a famous Latin American painter, but seemingly a comedian as well. Most likely not professionally, but she had the whole audience laughing at her jokes, especially when she mentioned her parrot who drinks tequila and says “I can’t get over this hangover!” Frida Kahlo was being portrayed last week at Southern Connecticut State University by Roseanne Almanzar, an actress and member of Actors’ Equity Association.

Almanzar and the core emsemble were at SCSU to perform their two-hour one-woman act, Tres Vidas, which SCSU had presented for Hispanic Heritage Month. Tres Vidas portrayed the life of three important, Hispanic women throughout history and told their stories through song, music, dance, movement and commentary.

“I think these three women represent Hispanic Heritage Month well,” said Almanzar, “because there are two artists – the visual – and the written. I think they represent a whole culture (because) they’re all from different areas, including South America, which is usually not represented. Rufina represented a horrible time in history that should not be forgotten. It’s a well-rounded program. Frida was very anti-European, while Alfonsina was from Argentina and Beuenos Aires is very European. The play really comes full circle for Hispanic Heritage Month.”

Tres Vidas began with the life of Frida Kahlo, who’s paintings, according to the program notes, are noted for their immediacy, frankness and strength. She runs onto the stage yelling for Diego, who the audience learns is her husband, who Frida Kahlo describes as her “frog, lover and ‘husband.’” Almanzar portrayed Frida Kahlo by painting in thick, almost connecting eyebrows over her own and wore a very bright, old fashioned Mexican dress. She even walked with a limp to portray Frida’s accident she’d had in 1925, which left Frida with a permanent limp after being trapped in her room for what seemed like ages to her.

“Boredom,” Frida said during the play, “was another form of pain.”

Janet Oetterer, who said her Spanish professor let her know that Tres Vidas was happening, said she loved it, absolutely loved it. Not only did she go for extra credit and a chance to bring her kids to the college campus, but for Frida Kahlo.

“I just love Frida,” said Oetterer. “(Almanzar) made Frida come alive. The two paintings that were on display during her part taught me a lot about her. The play taught me a lot about her ethnicity, where she came from and why Frida was the way she was. To see her passion alive was amazing to me.”

After Frida Kahlo, Almanzar came back onto the stage as Rufina Amaya, which the program notes described as the sole survivor of the massacre at El Mozote, El Salvador that occurred in 1981, during that country’s long civil war. Over 700 people in that village had died, leaving Frufina Amaya without her family and friends. Almanzar talked of Rufina’s life before the massacre, speaking of celebrations, lives full of joy. Then the massacre had taken place. The music became dark, ominous and loud.

“I want to talk, tell my story,” said Rufina Amaya during the play, “even if noone will believe me…”

To prepare for her three different characters, including the intense, depressing monologue of Rufina Amaya, Almanzar had done a lot of research.

“I did a lot of research for the three roles,” she said, “looking at books, drawings, paintings, websites… In the case of (Rufina) from the massacre, you can listen to her testimony in Spanish on YouTube. I came up with their physicality – Frida is way different than Alfonsina Storni; they all have different accents from different regions. Frida was very proud of her accent. I had to stay simple for the peasant, Rufina and make it seem simple even though her monologue is full of high language. I had to make sure not to make her sound too sophisticated. The costumes and music also helped me get into character. Each had different tools to lock into the character.”

Oetterer believed that Almanzar’s practice paid off.

“Roseanne was incredibly talented. She became the character,” she said. “She spoke like them and she sang amazingly. I liked the simplicity of the act. The cello, piano and percussion were fitting and simple. It was a one-man show. It was just amazing.”

The core ensemble consisted of Tahirah Whittington on the cello, Hugh Hinton on the piano and Michael Parola, the percussionist. Oetterer said that she felt the music was very needed, especially in Rufina Amaya’s scene.

“I liked the music,” she said. “My daughter and I were talking about it. We said that it gave a sense of the environment without the play actually having a background. For example, during the massacre, the music was very eerie and gave you a sense of what Rufina must have been feeling.”

The final scene was Alfonsina Storni, who the packet described as the most popular woman poet and was the first woman writer to be accepted as an equal into the literary circles of Buenos Aires. Her writing always had a feminist bent.

Almanzar came onto the stage as Alfonsina belting out a song and wearing a classy, elegant dress and carrying a purse and notebook. When Almanzar began to describe Alfonsina Storni’s life, she mentioned she is more than a woman – she was is a human being! And above all, a writer.

Almanzar said it’s impossible for her to pick a woman she likes to portray the most.

“Impossible! I’m so connected to all three,” she said. “Like Rufina, I’m a mom. When I had my child I was reading her monologue to myself and wondered how I can do this and remain sane. While nothing I experience will parallel to what (Rufina) went through – my life is happy – it’s just heartbreaking to leave my son when I go on tour. Like Frida – I am proud to be Latina. I can relate to Alfonsina because she is European – Swiss and Italian heritage. I also had a feminist look on life without even knowing it because my mother, a judge, was a career lady, while my father was a schoolteacher.”

Oetterer said she felt as though she learned a lot from this play, not only about her beloved Frida, but about plays in general.

“I learned that you don’t need a lot to create a play,” she said. “Just need talent, passion. And a good memory to memorize all of that!”

She also said it was a shame that not as many people came to see the play as she expected.

“We need more plays like this,” she said.

While she felt this way, both her and Almanzar both believed Tres Vidas was a success.

“I got a standing ovation,” said Almanzar with a laugh. “That doesn’t happen every night. I could hear noises like – Wooh! – throughout; I could tell people were feeling it and it made me proud that I was singing songs that they grew up with.”

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