?El Estudio? is honest and compelling

Katie Christiansen

This weekend I experienced a heartbreak, suspicion, love, despair, embarrassment, and redemption, all for less than the cost of a movie. Some may think it crazy to pay for such feelings, and I’d agree, but to witness this gamut of human emotions second-hand is worth much more than the cost of admission to the CSUN theatre department’s newest offering.

El Estudio del Maestro, named after a morbid and out of character Diego Rivera painting, explores the stereotypes and the devastating realities of modern life in Tijuana where AIDS is rampant and skeletons are bursting from every closet.

The original play, written by David Tittle, is based on the Emmy-nominated work of CSUN journalism students and teachers. On multiple trips to the coastal Mexican town, oral histories were collected from the streets, where AIDS is easily spread, and the hospice, where victims await death. Under the direction of Anamarie Dwyer, El Estudio del Maestro became one of many projects that helped communicate these human stories to the world.

What makes this different from the other projects that sprang forth from those fateful trips is the centering of the plot around the intertwound lives of three modern Latinos, a family torn apart by secrets and under the constant gaze of death.

Tere, played by Eileen Verdugo, is a modern Mexican woman trapped by her culture’s idea of the entails of femininity and her husband’s feelings of inadequacy. Her brother Gabriel, played by Alfredo Madrid, is an ex-druggie and AIDS patient abandoned by his family but not by his sense of humor. Tere’s husband Lalo is an exploration of contradictions, a caricature of the masculinity demanded by his culture, strongly portrayed by M.J. Silva. All offer heartfelt performances but are universally at their best when speaking in Spanish. The feelings that exude when they converse in the romantic language are almost tangible.

Their lives intermingle, their destinies intrinsically linked, and all are haunted by the very real representations of death, skeletons lurking in every scene, ready to welcome the players into their dark arms at any time. With the haunting sounds that emanate from their bone-strung necks and the contortionist positions they hold for long minutes, these background players deserve adulation not only for their talent, but also their willingness to don unitards.

A cast with such racial diversity was a joy to see when the silver screen largely ignores minorities. None of the characters were stereotypes of their race or gender. The ever-present secrets that largely influenced the characterization saved the characters from being one-dimensional.

The story, one of heartbreak and stark realities, isn’t afraid to grasp at adult concepts of homosexuality, drug abuse, marriage, and family, which are explored with maturity and aplomb. Though the audience could largely see where the story was headed, it made the reality of the characters’ situations no less devastating.

Though modern Mexico serves as the backdrop, the values forced upon the main characters resonate within many cultures. Marriage and babies are the order of the day, and individual differences in aspirations are frowned upon. The dangers that result as a consequence of this enforced conformity highlight the importance of acceptance in any culture’mdash;a timely message in our current political climate.

This culture of secrecy breeds the disease. The consequences of these secrets are ignored as long as the machismo image of hyper-masculinity is preserved. Though the white tourist, Mark, played by Matt Hohmann, exudes arrogance with every utterance, his acceptance of his own sexuality shows a less ignorant view of the world than his dialogue suggests.

Through dimensional characters and truly human stories, ‘El Estudio del Maestro,’ offers a view of both the modern world where AIDS is not a death sentence and an antiquated one where being gay is.