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Chorus and Comunidad in Alfaro’s Electricidad and Oedipus El Rey

Name: Rosa Andújar

King’s College, London

This paper analyzes the choruses in Luis Alfaro’s Electricidad and Oedipus El Rey, two of the Chicanx playwright’s most prominent engagements with Greek drama, and the only ones that feature a chorus. Like their ancient counterparts, Alfaro’s choruses play a central structural and narrative role in his dramas: they not only frame each play, but they also mediate between stage and audience, offering crucial commentary on the actions of the protagonists. My paper examines the manner in which Alfaro’s choruses additionally build and express a sense of Chicanx community and identity. In particular I illustrate the manner in which they translate events beyond “la familia” of protagonists, connecting the plays’ larger themes to current Chicanx sociopolitical issues.

Whereas in the ancient context the correlation between the Greek tragic chorus and the fifth-century Athenian viewing audience is hard to gauge (see, e.g., Gould 1996, Goldhill 1996, Foley 2003), in Alfaro’s plays the chorus is aligned directly with an implied Chicanx community and audience: the stage directions for Electricidad, for example, state that Las Vecinas, “a chorus of mujeres from the hood,” are “the voz of the city”. My discussion of these mujeres focuses on the way in which they continually appeal and draw attention to the larger welfare of “el barrio”, “la comunidad” and “our gente” in their various scenes, which expands the events beyond the immediate family and places them in a wider context. The chorus in Oedipus El Rey functions in a similar way, translating the happenings on stage as they relate to the larger Chicanx community. As I illustrate, this anonymous chorus, which plays all characters except the two principal roles of Jocasta and Oedipus, additionally employs musical sounds and movements as part of their translation and mediation arsenal, helping to clarify the relationship between the stage and present-day realities.

Cherríe Moraga once claimed that the very act of theater-making for the Chicanx community “must be an act of creating comunidad” (Moraga 1992:159). My paper ends with a larger consideration of Chicanx theater’s interest in ancient mythologies as a way of elevating the wider Chicanx community. Earlier Chicanx theater movements such as El Teatro Campesino (The Farm Workers’ Theater) turned to Native American ancestral heritage, mostly Mayan and Aztec, in order to produce a decolonized Chicanx theater (Broyles-González 1994: 79-128; cf. Huerta 2000: 15-55). The general turn to Mesoamerican mythologies was a conscious choice widely believed to serve as a source of strength for a marginalized Chicanx community; as Tomás Ybarra-Frausto writes, “the linkage of indigenous thought to contemporary reality gave the Chicanx Movement mythic and psychic energies that could be directed towards its political and economic goals” (Ybarra-Frausto 1979: 119). In The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea (published in 2000 though initially commissioned in 1995), another prominent Chicanx engagement with Greek tragedy, Cherríe Moraga continues to rely on these Mesoamerican mythologies, even while using a Greek frame that according to Billotte 2015 communicated an intention to engage with a wider audience that extended beyond the Chicanx movement. That play’s fleeting chorus, for example, consists of known characters from Aztec mythology, Cihuatateo female warriors who died in childbirth. I therefore end with a discussion of Alfaro’s more conventional Greek chorus in light of these issues, and in particular his choice of moving away from this native precolonial past which has so previously been crucial to celebrate present-day Chicanx identities. [1]

[1] See also the widely expressed views of Olivia Chumacero, quoted in Broyles-Gonzales 1994: 80.

Session/Panel Title

Theatre and Social Justice: The Work of Luis Alfaro

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