By Steve Rathje
For the 28th year in a row, Casa Zapata put on a dorm play to “create a space to explore identities not explored in classes.” This year, Casa Zapata produced “Watsonville: Some Place Not Here,” written by artist-in-residence Cherrie Moraga, in lieu of its usual play — “Zoot Suit” by Luis Valdez. “Watsonville” chronicles the lives of Latina immigrants, working in canneries, who struggle with the issues of poor labor conditions, immigration and sexual identity.
Staged in the Casa Zapata side of Stern Dining, the space was absolutely packed on Friday’s opening night performance, with seats added along the edges of the stage and to both sides of the dining hall.
The play was presented in front of the beautiful Casa Zapata murals. Set designer Sarita Ocón ’04 took advantage of the intimate space: An elegant, white curtain draped from the ceiling in the center of the stage surrounded by white branches. This formed an abstract tree, symbolizing the connection the characters have to their home and culture — a connection that is being uprooted by the struggles they are facing with unsafe labor conditions and conflicting identities.
Director Wilma Bonet — a professional actress with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival — navigated the space skillfully, presenting scenes with grace and beauty. When a worker gets her hand cut in the cannery, bright red fabric is used in place of blood to show the extent of her injury. Bonet artfully tells Moraga’s story using simple means in an intimate space.
Since the play was put on primarily by Casa Zapata residents, many of the performers were new to acting and a wide range of abilities are presented. Despite this, each performer was invested in and connected to his or her role. The performers portrayed the struggling factory workers on strike with passion, shouting “Huelga! Huelga!” (Strike! Strike!) while marching with picket signs. The play’s use of rap, moments of magical realism and lyrical, bilingual dialogue made the play engaging despite some of its limitations — such as space and pool of actors.
Gladys Garcia-Montoya ’16 was a standout as Susanna, a factory worker struggling with her lesbian identity. Several of her friends ask her uninformed questions about her sexual preference, challenging, “How can you have so many women friends? Don’t you get confused? Which ones do you flirt with and which are friends?” Garcia-Montoya as Susanna deflected these questions with a powerful nonchalance, conveying how normal her identity is amidst a community that does not completely understand her.
“Watsonville” humanizes issues of identity and labor struggles, presenting them in a heartfelt way happening to real people. “Watsonville” is a truly valuable and engaging exploration of identities that are all too often unexplored in the classroom and beyond.
Contact Steve Rathje at srathje ‘at’ stanford.edu