Many residents of L.A. proudly rep the Dodgers, but do they know the history behind the team’s founding? LMU’s new production of “Chavez Ravine,” revised by comedy trio Culture Clash, seeks to tell this tale and inform Angelenos of those who came before us.
The play gets its name from an area in Los Angeles that is now the site of Dodger Stadium, the beloved baseball institution. Its founding, however, isn’t that rosy. The site of the stadium was once a poor, yet tight-knit Mexican-American community, but Los Angeles residents and politicians looking to expand the city considered it an eyesore. So, in 1949, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) acquired a large chunk of Chavez Ravine to reorder it into affordable public housing, and consequently razed over the entire area, relocating the residents. To make the situation worse, this plan was soon terminated due to a fearful bar on all public housing in Los Angeles, due in part to a fear of communism. Years after the land was vacated and without a use, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired the land for construction.
Stage manager of the production and senior theatre arts major Alexa Vellanoweth calls it “a great history about our own backyard, which is Los Angeles, told through the world of baseball.”
Latino comedy and performance troupe Culture Clash – made up of Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza -– turned this story of destruction and rebirth into a historical sketch comedy revue. Political satire and pop culture references help relate the background of Chavez Ravine to a new generation.
It is specifically this combination of history, sketch comedy and satire that provides a unique challenge for student actors. Director of the production Edgar Landa said, “This is a deceptively difficult play to produce. The material and various comedic styles within the play change on a dime, and the actors have had to learn how to play the comedy as well as the more serious elements of the play.”
Though what happened to the original residents of Chavez Ravine was tragic, Vellanoweth insists that it’s not focused on the tragedy.
“This isn’t a story about their struggle. It’s really not a negative thing. The point of the story is to tell a story about the people and what happened, and to really put it in the audience’s choice of whether it was a good thing that happened, or a bad thing that happened,” said Vellanoweth.
A focal point of the production is its Latino perspective. The community displaced from Chavez Ravine was largely Mexican-American; now Culture Clash has reimagined the material through their own Latino lens, and students of all different backgrounds must take on the material and adopt this unfamiliar perspective.
“Los Angeles also has an overwhelming Latino population that has shaped that history and will continue to do so,” Landa said. “We cannot ignore the diversity of this city nor the history of this city while studying within the pristine and protected walls of any university. The world exists beyond Marina Del Rey, Playa Del Rey and Westchester.”
Vellanoweth also related the difficulties of this material for the cast. The cast is not exclusively Latino, so she explained that the cast has had to do extensive research into source material, along with training in Spanish, in order to convey the story accurately and respectfully.
Sophomore theatre arts major Rebecca Starr plays a multitude of roles in the play, including J. Edgar Hoover, Pachuco and a helicopter pilot. She reflected on the difficulties of the play and what it means to LMU.
“The most challenging part of acting in this play has been understanding the significance of this event in Los Angeles’ history,” she said. “I had no idea what had happened at Chavez Ravine before I was cast in this play, so it took me a while to comprehend it. I’ve gained knowledge about this huge piece of L.A. history and I am so lucky to be able to help share this story with an audience.”
Ultimately, this is a story of a community’s unity and triumph over the circumstances they face.
“What makes the story fascinating is how the same community that was pushed out of their homes later came to embrace the organization that many incorrectly blame for displacing those families in Chavez Ravine,” Landa said.
“Chavez Ravine” is a perfect opportunity for LMU students to gain a greater understanding of a piece of L.A. history, all under the guise of comedy and our home baseball team.
Vellanoweth put it best, saying, “Viva Los Doyers!”
“Chavez Ravine” will run its second round of showings this weekend, Oct. 15-17, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15, but $10 for students.
This is the opinion of Kelsey Mangan, a senior English major from San Jose, California. Tweet comments to @kmaaaan_ or email email@example.com.