A reviewer called it “a beautifully written play, full of anguish and laughter, precious memories and hope, framing [two] women’s stories with a graceful, tender and profound honesty. Their genuine and deeply felt connection is balanced and truthful and very real.”
The write up in nohoartsdistrict.com is about “Favorite Cousins,” a play having a four-week run at Casa 0101 (through May 21) that looks at what gang violence can do to the closest of family dynamics. The two primas at the center of “First Cousins” are forced to resolve their differences on stage, lovingly guided by their recently departed abuela.
Lindsey Haley, who wrote “First Cousins,” has been a force of her own at Casa 0101 for the last decade, not only as a producer of the “Chicanas, Cholas y Chisme” play festival, but as participant in its ongoing playwriting workshops.
BHB spoke with the 64-year-old playwright about gang violence, family relations, stage language and her long-term association with the local playhouse.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Boyle Heights Beat: This play is based on events that you lived through in the 90s in Venice as a community activist. And it started as a 10-minute play. Tell me a little bit about the genesis of the play.
Lindsey Haley: It actually started as a half-hour play. I was given a commission by TeAda Productions to write my first play. I wrote a half hour long play. We had a staged reading at the Miles Playhouse in Santa Monica. Then about a year or two later, I showed it to Josefina Lopez, who took “Favorite Cousins,” the half hour version, and another half hour play that I’d written, “Pleito,” and she hand-selected three other Latina writers from the playwriting workshops that we were taking here. And that became the first “Chicana, Chola y Chisme” short play festival.
The 10-minute version of “Favorite Cousins” was staged in New Orleans as part of the New Orleans Fringe Festival, where we took selected pieces [from] our 10-minute play festival. Because the first year of “Chicanas, Cholas y Chisme” we didn’t have a time limit. Most plays were half-hour long, 20 minutes, half hour. And it wasn’t until it became popular, until its third year… we had so many women responding that we decided to make it a 10-minute play festival.
BHB: How was the process of turning it from a 30-minute play to a full-length play?
LH: I don’t have a formal education, so my playwriting instruction has come largely from workshops, like the workshops here at Casa, and then also reading other plays. And then I was part of the Latinx Theater Alliance/Latino Theater Initiative LA Writers Nest that was taught by [playwright] Luis Alfaro and given at Studio Luna, which is here on First. But writing the full-length play was a little hard for me, just having to keep the tension going between these two cousins, how do I keep them in one location, and what sort of conflicts come up. And then having to dig through my own past and friends’ stories and kind of reshape them, so that it seems real.
But it took me 10 years to write this full length version. I was busy with a day job. I worked for the City of Santa Monica for 22 years. And I was also producing “Chicanas, Cholas y Chisme,” which takes about six months out of the year. And so every weekend, the play was like a monkey on my back. I would want to relax and watch TV and just take it easy, but my desk would be staring right at me and this little voice in my head said ‘you should be writing, you should be writing, you should be writing’. So finally, you know, it’s done and I’m going to treat myself to reading, long walks, and binge-watching Netflix.
BHB: What was the inspiration for this play?
LH: The inspiration was gang violence and how it affects families. We hear a lot about it on TV, you know, gang shooting at 11 kind of thing, but we don’t realize what happens to families afterwards, the fallouts? What sort of feelings are left behind? That was the inspiration. With these two cousins, Gloria and Frances in “Favorite Cousins,” I’m exploring those feelings of gang violence and the fallout.
BHB: Even though the play is very specific to a time and place, it’s set in Santa Monica and the Westside, it almost feels like it’s happening right here in this neighborhood.
LH: Well, you know, the play kind of bounces around. When I wrote the play I said present time, but I borrowed from what was going on in the 70s, I borrowed what was going on in the 80s, I borrowed what was going on in the 90s. And the drugs that came in and out. The community centers that were very prevalent in the 70s, and the early 80s, before the onslaught of heroin coming into our communities. [The drugs] were always there, but there was this huge influx that came in, and then eventually the guns, so I kind of go in between, just to be able to give myself some creative license to be able to cover different parts of Chicano/Chicana history.
BHB: Family relations are very important to this play. Obviously, the relationship between the cousins is the fundamental conflict, and that comes alive really well, all the terrible and wonderful things that cousins share. And your use of language is super important, in creating those characters. It takes a lot of craft to put that kind of language on stage.
LH: Thank you.I think I owe that to my mother, my grandmother and my Lucero family in El Paso, because I loved spending time, kind of being the kid in the corner. And when I was really little, I would hide under the table, the dining room table, and just listen to my grandmother and her sisters. And my mom and her sisters. And the way they told stories was, they wouldn’t just tell a story outright, they would actually take on whoever they were talking about. If they were talking about my tía Juana, it would be: “Y luego me dijo la Juana, ‘Ay, así no se hace.’” They were natural born storytellers and actors. And so I think I owe it to them. Because dialogue for me was the easiest to write. Dialogue comes really easy to me. I think that’s a strength.
For me, I think the hardest part of writing this play was how to maintain the conflict, and reaching the arc of the characters, which is something that, you know, I’ve learned in this form of writing.
BHB: And there’s obviously a lot of affection that you show for those two characters. You care deeply about these characters.
LH: Oh I do. [They’re] not based on any one person I know, but a combination of people and characteristics that I thought were important to the story. And so the questions that the wealthier cousin asks herself, when she’s moved away to a safer neighborhood and wishes that she hadn’t brought her son back to the neighborhood. You know, those are revealing questions. But I think those are questions that most Latino parents have asked themselves. And then, the idea of those that are college educated and have moved away from the neighborhood.
I felt that it was important to address that, for me personally. During the Chicano movement, I was 11 in 1970, I met a lot of Chicano/Chicana community activists who were college students at UCLA and Loyola. And I thought that our problems were going to be over. Childlike naivete, right? That we were going to be happy, we were not going to be poor, there was going to be no more prejudice and all of that. And I was pretty politically aware. I knew about civil rights, and I followed the news, I read a lot. And when things got worse in the neighborhood, I felt pretty abandoned. That was me personally. And as I got older and became an activist and saw what our youth were going through, I was angry at that, again.
And I get it, why parents wouldn’t want to stay in [the neighborhood], you don’t want to take that chance. You want to give your children the best. But there was a movement here in Boyle Heights, “gentefication,” where people were coming back and trying to make the schools better. So I’m hoping that that continues, because it really does take a village. Just because you’ve moved away and you’re living in a safe neighborhood… If your children look brown, they’re going to be targeted.
BHB: In a chat with audience members after a recent performance, you alluded to Casa 0101 as a place for storytellers, especially women storytellers, and Latina women storytellers, to develop. Speak about the importance of this place as a breeding ground.
LH: Yeah. Thank God for Casa 0101. “Chicanas, Cholas y Chisme” is a program where you don’t have to have a lot of experience, we help foster your play, and help you with the development of your play. You direct, you get an opportunity to direct. And then collectively we all learn how to produce a show. And you can take that wherever you go, once you know how to produce the show. It influences your writing. Like for me, my play takes place in one room, because I’m thinking about costs. It’s like, “no, not too many sets,” so you’d start thinking like a producer.
But there’s been another festival, “Brown and Out,” a collection of short plays about the LGBTQ community. And we’ve also had classic theater. Coming next, “Death of a Salesman,” with an all Latino/Latina cast, which I think is amazing. And then also my granddaughter is taking acting and playwriting classes here. And she’s 10. And my grandson is interested in the technical end of it. So there may be a place for him here too.
Then with the children, when they come to the classes, instead of the parents just sitting around, there’s the parents’ and caretakers’ writing workshop. They can participate in a writing workshop while their children are in their classes.
If it was not for Casa 0101 you wouldn’t see the development of not just new works being written and directed, but also staged and played. You know, with our plays, we give the opportunity for actors to also hone their acting skills. It’s appropriately called Casa because this is definitely my second home. We need those stories.
BHB: How does it feel to see you play on the stage?
LH: Feels like a dream. Feels like a dream. [My daughter] got to see it last weekend. And she gave me a big hug. She knew what that meant. She goes, “you did it Mom. You got it done. You did it.” And it’s beautiful. So, yeah, it feels like a dream.
You know, Josefina Lopez says they’re in the business of making dreams come true. Oh, how true is that. And I want every writer to feel this, what I’m feeling, the sense of accomplishment, the fact that I wrote something that I enjoy watching. And not only that, but that has given a vehicle to our actors to shine, and also given jobs to a stage manager…
And I love that when we open the doors, I don’t know a lot of the people. I don’t know how they got here. And a lot of them are veteranos and veteranas, like old time cholos and cholas. And I’m like, I love this. And maybe it’s because of the graphics on the invitation. I’m not sure, word’s getting out. And word’s getting out on the Westside. So a lot of people from Santa Monica and Venice are coming in. And I want to introduce them to this place, you know, and let them know, “Hey, come here. There’s theater here for us,” you know?
BHB: So when’s the next play coming?
LH: Well, the next play is already done. It’s called “15.” Actually “Favorite Cousins” is a part of five plays. The Westside Series is what I’m calling it. And each of the plays is taking place in one of the Westside neighborhoods.
But for now, I think I’m gonna take a little bit of a break. A friend of mine said, “you’re going to be really sad. So plan something really good for yourself.” So I’m going to treat myself to a steak at Musso & Frank’s, with a martini. I might get dressed up and everything.
BHB: Anything else you’d like to say?
LH: Please come and see the show and support Casa 0101 and your local publications. We’re here to serve you. Thank you.
Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $25 for General Admission, $22 for students and seniors 60+, and $20 per person for groups of 20+. Casa 0101 is located at 2102 East First Street.
For tickets, patrons can call the CASA 0101 Theater Box Office at (323) 263-7684, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or buy online.
Thank You. A giant leap.
Leave a comment