Diario Judío México - A few years ago, I interviewed Todd Salovey about the upcoming Jewish Arts Festival. In it’s third year, he announced a production that was all in Spanish. The audience laughed at him and he said, “Don’t laugh. It’s sold out.” That sellout performance was the work of Teatro Punto y Coma, the region’s Mexican-Jewish Theatre Troupe. I sat down with three of their members, Salomon Maya, Pepe Stepenski and Sore Gordon.
EGT: How did Teatro Punto y Coma get started?
PEPE: Almost thirty years ago. It started just as a troupe to do plays in Spanish. We’ve been changing to include plays in English, but always with Latino themes or Jewish themes or combinations of both.
EGT: So it’s not just a Spanish theatre but a Spanish-Jewish theatre. Where did you get the idea that this needs to be a thing?
PEPE: There was no other group that was doing it. There was a group, Teatro Mascara Magica, but they did a couple of plays and disappeared.
EGT: What cultural differences do you see between the Anglo Jewish community and the Spanish other than the words coming out of your mouths?
PEPE: I do feel the American Jewish community is more integrated into the American life.
SAL: The Mexican Jewish theatre in Mexico City is so vibrant. Here, you see revivals. There, you see more original works. They’ll do stuff that’s so out there and on the edge of being racy and provocative. There you have a Jewish community where they are Mexican-Arab Jews, Mexican-Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic. And they have their little rivalries about who built the most lavish temple.
SORE: Adding to what Pepe said, the Jewish community now in San Diego is huge compared with twenty years ago. Pepe studied communication and film in Mexico as a way to express himself and it’s a hobby that has lasted for more than twenty years.
SAL: The people that are coming tonight are missing that theatre ambiance that they had back in Mexico City. You can go across the border and get that authentic taco flavor and you can see great Mexican theatre in Tijuana, but it won’t be Mexican-Jewish theatre.
PEPE: That doesn’t mean you can’t get that authentic Mexican taco flavor at my taco shops here, just to give a shameless plug.
EGT: Just the name Porkyland is a non-starter for me, Pepe.
PEPE: That’s why we always try to do original works. There’s a huge amounts of plays that we could do. We have done them in the past. But we try to do true stories based on things that we are curious about.
EGT: Like what? Do you look for plays or do you say, ‘This has just happened. Let’s write about it.’?
SAL: So last year, one of my friends was having issues getting pregnant. And it cut him deeply because they’d been married for three years and people would ask, ¿Cuando? When? After they’d been stabbing her uterus with needles, this was very painful. So he sat with Pepe and me and we created this fictitious world in which people are stuck in traffic because of a woman who was about to jump off a bridge because she had lost a child after trying so hard to get pregnant. So Gridlock came out of issues from someone in our community.
PEPE: We did a play about my father’s death. My father died in a very public way in front of all of his friends at a class reunion. During the shiva, everybody said that he was the last one to talk to my dad. Everyone wanted to take the credit. Somebody was shooting video of the reunion, so I know who was the last one. But everyone wanted to take the credit, so we created a play, The Last One.
EGT: There’s an axiom that comedy = tragedy + time and it seems there was enough time for you to see the humor in that. When I came to see Gridlock last year, I noticed that everyone in the house was hugging and kissing everyone else. It’s a very tight community. I felt a little left out because it seemed that I was the only one not kissing everyone. So you obviously have a loyal following, but how would you like to grow your audience? Who else do you see in the house?
SORE: We would love it.
SAL: I’d love it and I wouldn’t to be totally honest. It is true that our way of writing is not going to be for everybody. Pepe had some reservations when I said that we are going to do this half in English and half in Spanish. He asked if we were going to have subtitles and I said No. We live in a border town where if you don’t know Spanish, well you should. If you don’t know English, well you should. …Not everyone would get “us” and our way of telling a story. This is a very specialized community.To be fair, the linguistc mosaic of San Diego County is far more complex than English and Spanish. We have a multitude of immigrant communities whose first language is Tagalog, Arabic, Russian, Somali, Chinese, Vietnamese.… You get the idea.
There was more to our conversation, but you get the gist of it. It’s worth noting that Teatro Punto y Coma is a non-profit community theatre. It’s a labor of love for their actors and all profits go to programs at the Ken Jewish Community.
Republished from San Diego Jewish World