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The Washington Post

New Territory For GALA: Puerto Rico's Ambiguous Status

By Dan Via

June 20, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Washington Post Company. All rights reserved. 

Ernesto Concepcion and Angel Vazquez tackle Puerto Rico's ambiguous status as a United States territory.
(PHOTO: Daniel Cima)

ALL POLITICS is local, or so the saying goes. Accordingly, Hugo Medrano, artistic director of GALA Hispanic Theatre, admits he approached his latest import, the brashly political revue "Puerto Rico En . . . Cantado," with some trepidation. After all, Puerto Ricans aren't especially well represented among the GALA audience, and political satire usually relies on shared experience.

"[The show is] not exactly what I had in mind," Medrano says with a smile. "And I like it very much."

Medrano knew he wanted to include Puerto Rico in his season and had envisioned creating a musical built around the island's traditional songs. After all, similar shows focusing on Cuba and Brazil had succeeded in unifying GALA's sometimes fragmented, multinational audience. However, Medrano's preferred collaborator for the project, Carlos Merced, was unavailable, but he steered Medrano toward actors Ernesto Concepcion and Angel Vazquez instead.

The duo's comedic sketches and musical parodies have been popular on Puerto Rican college campuses for several years. "En . . . Cantado" is an expanded and Americanized version of their most recent production. Medrano says: "We work together with Angel to include some Puerto Rican classics and open a little more the themes and the subjects." Translation: They had to address the general lack of knowledge about Puerto Rico and its politics, which Concepcion and Vazquez seem to find dismaying, yet not unexpected. Much of their show, in fact, focuses on the ambiguous status of the United States's oft-ignored territory.

The pair's explicitly political emphasis, though a departure from usual GALA fare, is in keeping with Puerto Rican tradition.

"Instead of baseball, politics is our national pastime," Concepcion says.

"Mostly because of the particular situation [as a U.S. territory]," adds Vazquez, "you're not this and you're not the other thing, but you're both at the same time. That causes a lot of emotion; the voting rating in Puerto Rico is much higher than the States -- eighty-something [percent participation]."

Medrano reports at least a few walkouts every show -- usually Puerto Rican nationals whose beliefs get skewered. (Frankly, all "isms" come under Vazquez and Concepcion's friendly fire.) Still, despite his initial trepidation, Medrano says most GALA audiences seem open to a different perspective. "The non-Puerto Ricans -- to put it that way -- are watching this way, in an attitude of wanting to learn more," he says, leaning forward in his seat. "To me it means they're not as educated about Puerto Rico as I would have expected, but they're very interested in the show."

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