Also see Wally's review of These Shining Lives
Life imitates art, but with a crucial difference, in Lisandra Tena's strong one-woman performance of Guera at Working Classroom in Albuquerque. Tena, an alumnus of Working Classroom who has gone on to distinguish herself as a professional actress in Chicago, returned home to cheers and to star in the group's fundraiser at its campus in the traditional Hispanic community of Barelas.
The play, which Tena also wrote, is all about a young Hispanic woman from the ghetto who is faced with a series of life-changing challenges. Unlike Tena, however, the eponymous character of Guera fails every challenge, ultimately losing her child, her freedom and herself. She is a a woman who never seems to have a real chance in life. Although told with much humor and verve, the story cannot be read as anything but a tragedy.
It is the kind of tragedy that Tena herself barely averted. She comes from the same background as her character Guera and was once homeless. Unlike Guera, however, life handed Tena opportunities and she made the most of them, starring as a student at the U.S. Job Corps in Albuquerque (where she also returned Monday to meet with a new generation of students), Working Classroom, CNM and the Theater School at De Paul University, where she graduated magna cum laude on a Working Classroom scholarship.
The performance mixes several genres. It is a monologue, but includes audience interaction and participation. Its four scenes are set up like a menu of appetizers, soups, entrees and desserts from which the audience chooses. Each course is a discourse on the unhappy but often funny realities of growing up poor in the barrio. Guera, a slang Spanish word referring to a light-skinned or blonde woman in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest, means something like "honky" when used between strangers and "dude" with friends.
Under the direction of Jo Cattell, the scenes flow smoothly, alternating direct conversations with the audience and crucial moments in Guera's dissolving life. Like Guera, Tena is bilingual and speaks with a distinct Hispanic accent. The play thoroughly mixes English, Spanish and Spanglish. At least rudimentary knowledge of Spanish would enhance a listener's enjoyment of the play, but is not absolutely necessary.
Working Classroom is a non-profit organization that promotes literary, figurative and performance arts among the disadvantaged. The play continues at its Paul Carpenter y Salazar Theater Thursday-Sunday until May 25. For reservations and information call 505-242-9267 or visit workingclassroom.org.