May 23, 2003

Theatrical Production Comments on Hollywood’s Stereotyping of Minorities

By Paola Hornbuckle

“Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria” is the name of the play written by Lisa Loomer, a minority playwright based out of Los Angeles. It was staged and presented at Cal Poly Pomona and directed by renown playwright Bernardo Solano. The play delivers a powerfully funny and poignantly sad look at the television industry in Hollywood and its stereotypical portrayal of ethnic minorities.

The title spoofs the musical West Side Story’s love song about the main character, Maria. The Maria of “Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria,” lives in a far cruder universe than her predecessor. She is the main character in an offensively stereotypical television sitcom titled “All in the Multicultural Family.”

Forced to talk with a thick accent, wear tight clothes, and live in fear of the INS, Maria makes the best of her poorly written script. Graced by an Indian husband who works at 7-Eleven, a younger, demure Japanese daughter, and an older, trouble-making, African-American daughter the play touches on every stereotype imaginable. In addition, the play includes a Korean landlady, a mysterious Italian-Armenian bank employee, a Jewish landlord, and a Latino bit actor, among others.


The diverse cast of “Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria.”

Backstage, the actress who portrays her, also called Maria and intelligently acted by Billie Rose Makyla, and her costars bemoan their fate and fight against the limiting, soul-crushing script with studio bosses. In their attempt to understand their situation, the limits imposed by their ethnicity, and each other, they find a moment in time of absolute peace, hope, and understanding.

The play was masterfully directed by Bernardo Solano, and delightfully acted by Cal Poly Pomona students. The contrast between the rigid stereotypes portrayed on the sitcom and the reality of the interactions backstage highlights the delicate and struggling humanity of the real characters.

Aditya Sreevatsa is charming as the well-natured, Indian husband who alternates between the Queen’s English and standard English backstage and a thick Indian accent onstage. Tiffany La Vonne Ennis is powerful as the oldest daughter and her pain and rage seep through in many of her scenes, especially in her most revealing monologue. Connie Chia is memorable as the actress who plays the demure Japanese daughter but wishes to explore real life issues, and Jonathan Lee is absolutely hilarious as the Korean landlady with the hard-nosed attitude and savvy outlook on life in show business.

Overall, the entire cast did a wonderful job—and the audience left with a new and bittersweet insight into the harsh world of Hollywood casting and the everlasting hope of the human being to persevere and find meaning in adversity.

Lisa Loomer has written several successful plays, including Bacon! The Waiting Room, Expecting Isabel, and Living Out and has won many awards, including the Jane Chambers Award, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the American Theatre Critics Association Award, and the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays Award. She also writes for the screen and television as is now based out of Los Angeles.

Sidebar

Bernardo Solano(director) is a respected playwright, and new faculty member at Cal State Pomona. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, he is the recipient of a 2001-03 NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Program for Playwrights. Productions include: Crossings and Growing Home at Cornerstone Theatre, Face to Face at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Widlife at the Powerhouse Theatre, Entries at George Street Playhouse, I Hate at Naked Angels, and most recently Nuevo California at San Diego’s Repertory Theatre. Many of his plays deal with the individual’s search for identity and the conflict of being an outsider and an insider at the same time. He welcomes the strong direction towards multiculturalism and diversity that the American Theatre has taken in the last decade but admits that Hollywood has a long way to go towards representing minorities in a realistic and all-inclusive manner.

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