The New York Lives Festival touts itself as “a platform where creatives can be loud, proud, own their truth and share their stories”. This descriptor is no more apparent than its stage play Latin Lives. Initially premiering at the Courtyard Playhouse in the early nineties as a series of vignettes focusing on Latininad, it wasn’t until creator Robert Maisonett revised the production that he then realized the arc of the story was the Ramirez family. The Ramirez family, like many, are not without dysfunction. There’s Josefina played by Mercedes Vasquez, the tired but loving and resilient matriarch of the Ramirez clan. Josefina carries the burdens of all her five children in the folds of her cotton bata and kitchen handtowel. There’s Doña Elena, the meddling and absentminded live-in suegra with a fiery libido and poor hearing. According to Mama Elena someone is either near death or dying. Of course no family would be complete without sibling rivalry. Sisters Norma and Lourdes seemingly can’t stand each other. Norma is the bookish, responsible, respectable sister while Lourdes is the vibrant, take no shit spitfire with a killer voice and dancer legs. Pito is the overachiever of his siblings. One of three brothers, he has big dreams of ditching his barrio and heading to Yale. Papo, who appears to be the middle brother is battling his own demons, bemoaning the death of his wife, raising a son as a single father and haphazardly exhibiting toxic masculinity and homophobic views toward his queer brother Sammy.
The intrinsic ways in which Latin Lives delves into topics some may still view as taboo creates familiarity within the Ramirez dynamic. We see the Ramirez’ struggle with identity when Papito, Papo’s son, questions his abuela Josefina on what it means to be Latino. We witness Papi Miguel struggle against patriarchal and religious dichotomies when Sammy announces he plans to marry longtime boyfriend Tony and we watched con sentimiento the all too familiar strain of community and law enforcement when Norma’s boyfriend and Pito fall victim to police brutality leaving Pito in a coma. And while the over two hour production spares us no small amount of barrio characters; the neighborhood santera, chismosa or titerè, you find yourself eager to revisit the comfort-ability of the Ramirez family and give them consejos as they attempt to salvage the wreckage. The transparency that is Latin Lives holds a mirror to our faces as if to remind us “no hay mal que por bien no venga” and we know this to be true. Says creator and executive producer Robert Maisonette:
I wanted to give Latin actors the chance to work with other Latin Actors. Showcase their talent, be proud of their work and provide a broader spectrum into the Latin community rather than the stereotypical roles too often seen on film and television. Latinos should enjoy the variety of three dimensional and inspiring roles.
The show has had several runs over the years with over one hundred Latinx actors taking the stage, some of who have even gone on to star in films and television. “Each cast brings something new, making it their own. The frame stays the same but the picture inside is always unique and beautiful” says Maisonette. The NY Lives Festival which prides itself in centering marginalized voices ends this Sunday July 1st with Latin Lives taking its curtain call at 7PM. Tickets can be purchased at brownpapertickets and Latin Lives the web series seasons one and two can be viewed on YouTube.