‘Whittier Blvd.,’ Latino Theater Company’s Chicano Noir dystopia
Courtesy of Latino Theater Company

LOS ANGELES — Whittier Blvd. is the main thoroughfare in the neighborhood of East L.A. In the 1960s and early ’70s, this was the place to be seen on Sunday nights. Young people and car clubs would cruise the boulevard. Whittier Blvd., the Latino Theater Company’s latest production, uses this Blvd. as a terminal destination for elder citizens.

The play—to this reviewer—was a Greek tragedy set in a Film Noir style, sprinkled with a few characteristics of the 1973 movie Soylent Green and the 1950 movie Sunset Blvd. And what is the tragedy? An aging star, avoiding that final journey of a cruise down Whittier Blvd.  Hence, a familiarity with the movie Soylent Green, where people choose to be euthanized. In this situation, people don’t have a choice. Whittier Blvd. was collaboratively written by the founding members of the Latino Theater Co., Evelina Fernández, José Luis Valenzuela, Sal López, and Lucy Rodríguez, and directed by Valenzuela.

The idea was envisioned during the Covid-19 pandemic’s Encuentro 2021: National Virtual Latina/o/x Theater Festival. They decided to produce the play during the 2023 season with what they call a Chicano Noir twist.

Courtesy of Latino Theater Company

The play starts by reminding the audience that social justice issues were achieved via the struggles of the people of the past to bring about the civil rights of the present. However, in the year 2042, Los Angeles has become a police state. People’s rights are being abolished, causing the history of the City of Los Angeles and the Chicano/a/x civil rights movement to be forgotten by the elders taking that last trip down Whittier Blvd. The existing police state has motivated younger Chicanos/as/x to organize an underground movement to guard the elders and preserve the history of prominent Los Angeles Chicanos/as/x.

Reminiscent of a chorus in a Greek tragedy, the play had three angels (Sal López, Geoffrey Rivas, and Lucy Rodríguez) who opened and closed the play. The leading characters are Verónica del Río (Evelina Fernández) an aging Chicana movie picture starlet, who has reached the dreaded age of 75. Verónica is evocative of the aging movie starlet, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Blvd., by her appearance and refusal to accept the fact that she is a faded star. Her caretaker Pilar (Lucy Rodríguez) narrates the life of Verónica speaking directly to the audience.  Pilar is involved with the underground movement to preserve the history of the Chicano/a/x movement.

Then there is the policeman (Geoffrey Rivas), who has come to the house to check Verónica’s birth certificate and possibly escort her to Whittier Blvd. Finally, you have Pablo (Sal López), a neighbor and friend who has unrequited love for Verónica, to the point of extending marriage to save her. Valenzuela directed the actors to move in direct lines and angles to each other. The script allows poetry, comedy, and music to be interwoven into the darkness of living in a totalitarian society.

Courtesy of Latino Theater Company

The stage setting is inside Veronica del Río’s living room and is decorated sparsely with simple block couches, a small table to the left used as a bar, and a table on the right. The back and side walls are a dark deep blue with rectangular-shaped lighting bars, while writings and images are projected on all the walls as the actors’ speeches address specific Chicano/a/x topics. All these features produce a black and white Noir movie effect. Actors enter and exit from the sides, their acting simple and consisting mostly of dialogue. Most of the time they look out to the audience instead of speaking to each other, reflecting a proclamatory Greek tragedy.

Being an aficionado of Film Noir and Greek tragedies, Whittier Blvd. satisfied my appeal in plays. The play is brief and to the point on issues such as civil and social justice gains which are being abolished, while the stage sets the tone of police monitoring your activities through home visitations and the usage of drones. Curfew is always in effect, and elders are being extinguished. It makes you question present-day laws and rights that are being curtailed. So when someone knocks on your door, beware if they say, “Let’s Take a Trip Down Whittier Blvd.! Arriba! Arriba! (lyrics courtesy of The Midnighters).

Whittier Blvd. ran from April 20 to May 28, at the Latino Theater Company at Los Angeles Theater Center in downtown L.A.

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Teresa del Carmen Gonzalez
Teresa del Carmen Gonzalez

Teresa del Carmen Gonzalez is a Los Angeles community activist and a member of the National Writers Union. A retired educator and administrator of the Los Angeles Unified School District, she has always been a supporter and advocate of immigrant families and Second Language Learners, especially those identified as students with disabilities.