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Theatre Journal Review of the Panza Monologues

Theatre Journal Review of the Panza Monologues

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Published by Virginia Grise
Review of The Panza Monologues. The Panza Monologues is an original solo performance piece based on women's stories about their panzas. Tú sabes - that roll of belly we all try to hide. A one-woman tour de force as told through the words of women speaking with heart stopping frankness, these stories create a quilt of poignancy, humor, and revelation. The Panza Monologues boldly places the panza front and center as a symbol that reveals the lurking truths about women's thoughts, lives, loves, abuses, and lived conditions.
Review of The Panza Monologues. The Panza Monologues is an original solo performance piece based on women's stories about their panzas. Tú sabes - that roll of belly we all try to hide. A one-woman tour de force as told through the words of women speaking with heart stopping frankness, these stories create a quilt of poignancy, humor, and revelation. The Panza Monologues boldly places the panza front and center as a symbol that reveals the lurking truths about women's thoughts, lives, loves, abuses, and lived conditions.

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Published by: Virginia Grise on Nov 15, 2012
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07/17/2013

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Review of The Panza Monologuesby Karen Jean Martinson (2005)Despite its namesake, many assert that nothing new ever arises in Phoenix. Oftenassumed to be as culturally arid as its desert landscape, the city of Phoenixconjures images of relocated retirees, endless pavement, and the conservativepolitics of Barry Goldwater. Yet, original theatre is proving the exception. ¡TeatroCaliente!, an annual festival of alternative performing arts in the Southwest, opens aspace for the artists who live in the area to come together as an eclecticperformance community. It turns out that these artists have something important tosay because as one of the nation's fastest-growing cities, Phoenix manifests all of our national problems; the city stands as a battleground for wars over identification,immigration, education, the distribution of limited resources, and the formation andmaintenance of personal and political relationships. The festival has manystrengths, perhaps the greatest of which is its dedication to ethically representingthe diversity of the region. ¡Teatro Caliente! creates a forum in which a multiplicityof Southwestern voices can speak and be heard. By allowing artists to cometogether in their own particularities to speak in a variety of languages, performancegenres, and forms, the festival interrogates the region's deep history and reimaginesits future.The second annual incarnation of the festival featured over twenty participants,who offered a wealth of artistic creation, including solo performances concerningidentity and interpersonal relations; theatre pieces examining xenophobia andbigotry in USAmerican culture;
butoh
dance evoking the cold cruelty prevalent incontemporary culture; and multimedia explorations of the marginalization of queerness and the legacy of white patriarchy. In a festival rich with innovativeperformances, several pieces stand out for the critical insight they offer. VirginiaGrise and Irma Mayorga presented
The Panza Monologues
, a multilingualcollection of Latina women's thoughts and experiences surrounding their
 panzas
.In the most simple translation,
 panza
refers to the belly, but more metaphoricallyreferences the heart, the center of the body, and the center of life. The productionmakes visible the way political, economic, sexual, and cultural oppression play outon the female body. Initially conceived at San Antonio's Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, where Grise and Mayorga worked together as activists, theperformance grew out of the recognition that as the Esperanza women fought forsocial justice, it sometimes seemed the most tangible gains they made were in theirown waistlines, at the expense of their physical well-being. This revelation madeclear in a personal way the link between the health of the body and of a culture. Asnoted in
The Panza Monologues,
over sixty percent of USAmericans areoverweight, a statistic that disproportionately affects minority and impoverishedpeople. In contemporary US culture, it has become a privilege to eat well and to bephysically active. At the same time, USAmericans are subjected to a deluge of media information about the perfect female body, which is always tall, thin, and
 
white.
The Panza Monologues
explores the complex terrain of learning to care foryour body while loving it for what it is. While the tough work of questioning thecultural practices that lead to obesity is somewhat underdeveloped in this piecethat favors celebrating the overweight panza, the monologues chart a coursethrough the landscape of identification rich with humor and sadness, resistance andrepression. By introducing us to an entire spectrum of women—women whoharness the power of their bodies, whose bodies are the site of physical abuse, whohave destroyed their panzas and themselves, and those whose panzas have, in oneway or another, led them to political or spiritual knowledge—
The PanzaMonologues
reveals how the panza connects us to everything, most importantlyeach other. The performance builds bridges across the cultural lines that divide usprecisely because it is situated thematically, linguistically, and aesthetically in theparticularities of the USAmerican Latina experience. It is thus fitting that theproduction shares the stage with
latinidad.
 
The Panza Monologues
animates latinidad scenically by employing a festive altar,complete with flowers, fairy lights, and pillows. These elements become materialsof transformation as Grise (directed by Mayorga) deftly enacts the manymonologues. A pair of pliers becomes a comic prop as Grise performs a womanfitting herself into a too-tight pair of jeans with the aid of the tool, while a featherboa functions as a relic of sexiness to an older woman remembering her youngerdays. Titles announce and demarcate the monologues, and projections inform thestories through photographs, images, and text. In a particularly powerful moment,Grise dances as
noticias
flash across the screen. These bits of information,excerpted from news stories, provide a sharp contrast to the evocative, lyricmonologues as they lay out the correlation of obesity and poverty in the cold,objective language of journalism.Grise's performance throughout is powerful and honest. Using vocal and physicalvariation, she convincingly creates separate personae for each monologue. Herbravest moment, however, arrives when she shares her own story with theaudience. Putting herself in a position of vulnerability, Grise grapples with thecomplexities of her own identity. She begins by mapping out her diverse ancestry,temporarily disallowing herself the stability of a singular ethnic position. Grise theninterrogates how she both considers herself to be and is marked by others as aLatina, the culture in which she was raised and which she fully embraces, andexplores how such identification is disrespected in the United States, made to feeloutside the boundaries of acceptability. The piece climaxes with the recall of anencounter with a Cubano that casts her understanding of self into confusion.Remarking on her weight, the Cubano proclaims that obesity is an illness of capitalism because capitalists want to take all that they can, even at the dinnertable. The Cubano merely sees in Grise her United States heritage, and Grise is leftto wrestle with her double consciousness, recognizing that she is both oppressed

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