Pupusas, Michael Jackson, and cannibalism aka American Latiné.
Marin Theater Company concludes its 2022/23 season with Brian Quijada’s Where Did We Sit on the Bus? The solo show starring the multi-talented Satya Chávez runs in Mill Valley through May 28.
The play is a uniquely Latin blend of storytelling, music, dance, and theater following first-generation Salvadoran-American Bee Quijada from birth to the present. The tight script explores deeply emotional and controversial issues with humor, grace, and an earnestness that keeps it from becoming self-righteous or sermonizing. One of those issues that elicited the most response is Latiné representation.
For those who have not encountered the term Latiné before, it is used by many people of Latin-American descent to describe ourselves without having to gender ourselves. Using the Spanish neutral ending of ‘é’ instead of the American ‘X.”
Representation of Latiné culture prompted the title of the play. While learning about Rosa Parks, third grader Bee asks the question “Where did we sit on the bus?’ The answer given to young Bee elicited an audible gasp from white audience members while the rest of us were laughing at the truth of the situation.
In fact, a good portion of the 90-minute performance played out in such a way as to make clear who in the audience would have sat where. While this might sound off-putting, it wasn’t. Chávez is a highly talented performer who displayed a sensitive adeptness in reading the room. Their timing was precise, and due to that, what could have been uncomfortable divisions were always diffused by the story’s progression and the artistry on display.
In addition to Chávez’s talent and Quijada’s tight script, the overall production is a cohesive and beautiful lesson on how all aspects of a production assist in storytelling. For a piece that finds itself halfway between performance art and traditional theater, the pitch-perfect set and lighting design by Tanya Orellana and Pablo Santiago showcase their appreciation and mastery of minimalist design. In that same vein, Alice Ruiz’s deceptively simplistic costuming is a well-thought-out concept that serves its purpose while never becoming obtrusive.
This piece is a good entryway for those with little knowledge of the Latiné culture to become acquainted with some of the struggles that impact all immigrants and marginalized societies. For this reviewer’s fellow first-generation Latiné who grew up being asked “How do you speak English so well?”, it’s a funny, irreverent, long-overdue, look at our own history.
‘Where Did We Sit on the Bus?’ runs Tues – Sun through May 28 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tues – Sat, 7:30 pm; Sat & Sun, 2 pm. $43.50-$60.50. Masking required. 415.388.5208. marintheatre.org.