Alba Sanchez makes her La MaMa debut with "The Bronx Witch Project,"
a journey from the Bodega to Bloomies with a succession of comic characters all
played by Ms. Sanchez. It's an evening of urban tales that cross through cults
and cultural borders, from boarding schools to the armpits of the South Bronx.
Directed By Gary Dini, it has its premiere run in The Club at La MaMa September
19 to October 6. The material contains provocative sendups of Latina life and
statements on racism, politics, love, and religion.
The production will be Ms.
Sanchez' first full-length play since her "The Tall Thin Blonde in The
Short Puerto Rican Body" (1996), which pretty much established her as a
Latina voice to be reckoned with. El Diario (Juan M. Mendez) wrote, "This
excellent actress transforms herself, in a little less than an hour, into four
distinctly different personalities. Throwing a playful eye at the Boricua and
Latina of the north, written with irreverence and complexity and acted with
(delivers) a compact but very powerful piece that
leaves us wanting more." The Bronx Journal (Toni Ann Scauzillo) praised
her as "smart, funny and socially and politically aware" and lauded
her for her efforts to expand the parameters of theater by playing in unconventional
spaces in The Bronx.
Ms. Sanchez' material deals
with Puerto Rican characters around the Grand Concourse, where she grew up
and still lives today. It has a flavor much more akin to Whoopie Goldberg's
gentleness than John Leguizamo's raw ribaldry. Most of "The Tall Blonde Woman in the
Short Puerto Rican Body" centered on body-image humor, which was a staple
of her early material. With "Holy Sh
ssh," a play that was later
re-titled "Giving Up Religion for Lent," she took a humorous look
at the curves and stop signs generated by the juxtaposition of indigenous spiritual
practices and mainstream Judeo-Christian values.
Her father was a Puerto
Rican-born loan shark and singer who was available "24-7 (24 days a year,
seven minutes a day)." Her light-skinned mother was a spiritualist and
nurse who often characterized herself as "white woman slave of a black
man." Alba was a "change of life baby." Her parents sent her
to exclusive boarding schools, which gave her a very unusual upbringing since
she traversed between upscale, suburban Short Hills and the gritty streets of
the South Bronx. At 14, she went to Professional Children's School in Manhattan--an
experience that provides the plot of one of the stories in "The Bronx
There's a genuineness and
big-heartedness in her remembrances. It's an aspect of Puerto Rican playwrighting
today which is underappreciated in the mainstream and unacknowledged to the
point of ignorance in the traditional "culture" circuit. She says,
"I try to find the heart in the crazy situation," and many of the
situations in the play, taken directly from her own life, are indeed crazy.
Like her family's manipulation of the Bronx numbers racket with Santeria in
order to pay off her overdue tuition at The Professional Children's School.
"The Bronx Witch Project" is also set in the vast jungles of the Bronx
Zoo and in the clutter of her parents' apartment, where there were life and
death struggles with an "insane, megalomaniac, talking Shitzu."
Ms. Sanchez is culturally
savvy to the mainstream as well as her Nuyorican roots, and she has built-in
appeal to both audiences. She brings over a dozen widely varied characters
to life with edgy, vervy physicalizations. She breaks the fourth wall, speaks
directly to the audience, and takes time-outs for cultural explanations,
Ms. Sanchez' solo shows
have been performed at P.S. 122, Dixon Place and Nuyorican Poets Cafe. She
is a Franklin Furnace Performance Grant recipient and a two-time Kefir Endowment
Recipient. She has also appeared at the Pearl Theater, NY Comedy Club, The
Copacabana, The Bronx Museum, Marion's and numerous venues on the college
circuit. Sanchez was a scholarship student at The American Musical and Dramatic
Academy and also trained with Herbert Berghof, The New Media Repertory Theatre,
Terry Shreiber Studio, Chicago City Limits, and Gotham Writers' Workshops.
She was a member of The Copa Players, Latin City Ensemble and Bonner and
Company Troupe. She has taught Storytelling, Monologue, and Comedy Writing
for The Bronx Arts Council of the Arts and The Point Cultural Center. She's
been featured in news pieces on NBC and PBS. She recently worked on two sitcom
pilots and acted in a new Indy film, "The Guy Who Didn't Get It," to
be released in September.
Director Gary Dini is also
a feature producer for The Fox News Channel. He is a published playwright and
a California Art Council Grant recipient for his original play "Halfway
Home" 1992. He is also an actor, a children's book author, music video
producer, radio producer, director, poet, and drama teacher. This is his NYC
directing debut. His work to-date has been mostly in CA, where he trained with
San Francisco Mime Troupe, among Others. Dini is also production designer of
"The Bronx Witch Project."