One of the most privileged parts of growing up in New York was my proximity to Broadway. As a child nothing excited me more than buttoning up my overcoat and slipping my hands into my faux fur muff, ready for a night of theatre. (This is not a euphemism. I was like 6 or 7 when I saw my first Broadway show, don’t be gross :p)
With this in mind, while here in Lima I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see my favorite form of art within a new cultural context. So the bae and I went to see Peru’s version of Lady Day called Lucha Reyes: Sin Decirte Adiós (Lucha Reyes: Without Saying Goodbye)
Now is probably a good time to mention that when I say I speak a little Spanish what I really mean is I can tell you my name, how old I am, and that my favorite food is french fries. That’s about it. So I knew going into this that my experience of this play would be limited, and thus this will not be a review, but closer to a journal entry. A sharing of how I saw a play without hearing it.
The subject of the play is one of Peru’s most famous singers of the past, Lucha Reyes. Her name and voice is recognizable to almost every Peruvian. I definitely won’t be able to do her history justice in this post, but from what I know, as an Afro-Peruvian woman her journey in life was not an easy one. Born into a large family with little money and her father passing at a young age she found that singing gave her a place release herself from the burdens of her life. However, her struggle with diabetes would sadly take her life at the young age of 37. On October 31, 1973, Lucha Reyes suffered a heart attack on her way to a Mass at the Peruvian Society of Actors , for the “Día de La Canción Criolla (Day of the Creole Song)” and passed away. This is where the play begins.
We open up to a peña (A small Peruvian bar where you would typically go to hear creole music) where the band on stage is waiting for Lucha’s arrival and is forced to fill the time. When she finally comes on stage through a door of pure white light she explains to the audience of her death. With her iconic big hair, bright blue eyeshadow and long lashes she is both regal yet overdrawn. Someone who is trying to coverup, or overcompensate. It took me a second to catch on, I didn’t realize at first that the play was taking place in this afterlife of sorts, (Although duh Sajda, doorway with bright white light? I should have known immediately) but as characters from her past appear from the audience and confront her it becomes very clear who these people were to her. Father, critic, husband, and child all here on this stage as a way for her to reconcile with her life and with her past. The play utilizes her songs and flashbacks to paint a picture of Lucha Reyes’s life. You see moments of love, pain, betrayl and without words you understand that this is a person who was constantly put down by the people she loved and by society. Never pretty enough, never rich enough, and too black, but the one thing she did have was her voice. Her music and her songs were her air to breathe and the one thing in life no one could take from her. There is an extraordinary moment and the end of the play as she takes off her wig and jewelry and proclaims to the audience and to the people of her past that singing is all she has, and all she’ll ever need and begins to sing. It is both an empowering and heart breaking moment at the same time. To come face to face with such a beloved person of Peru and to see the hardships of their life I think has the ability to really illuminate that person’s humanity and gives you the opportunity to see them as truly complex being, more than an icon. The bae told me afterward that some of the dialogue used by the tv host/critic’s character was actually really harsh and abrasive, exemplary of the racism of the time. (That character was also based off of a real Peruvian tv host Augusto Ferrando, so it’s possible that some of his dialogue might have actually been things he said) Bae mentioned that it might be shocking, especially for an older audience who may have felt or spoken in that way, to come to terms with their own past behavior, which I think is pretty daring.
It was actually quite amazing to see a play without understand the words, because it allowed me to focus on the emotion of the piece. I was able to follow along in the story just with body language, lighting, and vocal intonations. I think almost every theatre maker should do the same. It really shows you how to make the heart of your piece really stand out, and to make your work about more than just what’s being said. I mean theatre is a visual medium after all.
Thanks for reading!