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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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05/22/2006 Archived Entry: "Essay: 3/7/11: A Lincoln Heights Tale"

Fables of Transition in 3/7/11: A Lincoln Heights Tale
By José Cruz González

Essay by Roberto Cantú
California State University, Los Angeles

Cornerstone Theater Company (www.cornerstonetheater.org) recently produced a play in collaboration with three Lincoln Heights neighborhood schools. 3/7/11: A Lincoln Heights Tale, written by José Cruz González and directed by Laurie Woolery, was performed free of charge for the community on May 5 and 6 at Lincoln High School. The play involved students from Mr. Imanishi's 3rd grade class at Loreto Elementary School, Mr. Lieberman's 7th grade class at Nightingale Middle School, and Mrs. Collins' 11th grade class at Lincoln High School.

As part of a grant from the California Council for the Humanities (California Stories Initiative), Cornerstone was honored to work with Roberto Cantú, a distinguished Professor of Chicano Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. The following are his observations about the show.

Fables of Transition in 3/7/11: A Lincoln Heights Tale, by José Cruz González
Roberto Cantú
California State University, Los Angeles

Next to myths and legends, fables constitute humanity's earliest forms of storytelling. Fables, however, have distinguishing features: for instance, its tales of cunning and innocent animals -- the wolf, the lamb, the tortoise, among others -- are generally understood as a group reflection, a textual or dramatic background where each society views itself critically. Fables are thus the product of imagination and self-criticism, the echo of folklore and, simultaneously, a people's mirrored reflection. In 3/7/11: A Lincoln Heights Tale, José Cruz González establishes the play's educational message through fables of transition, that is to say, in tales that dramatize the rites of passage of urban youth who represent society's future. The play includes humor, parody, and political satire that will undoubtedly charm its audiences, as fables have done since time immemorial.

As a dramatic performance, 3/7/11: A Lincoln Heights Tale begins with a storyteller's invitation to a return journey, a homecoming that promises to be a rediscovery of a recent past when the rule of the day was play. The performance begins, consequently, with a pun that associates a youthful activity (to play), and a genre (a play), narrated as a retrospective journey to an era of happy days, and as a dramatic present that is far from being harmonious. The cast includes striking variants of the conjuring magus (the storyteller), the symbolic puppets (the evil troll, the young shadows, the zombie-like adults), monsters of chaos and illusion (El Espejo Grande, broken in fragments), and the frightened and subjugated youth who recoil under such dark forces but who turn victorious at the play's conclusion. In other words, 3/7/11: A Lincoln Heights Tale concludes as a social comedy in which after the journeys and the many obstacles faced by the play's youthful protagonists, the communities' conflicts are symbolically resolved—and with no assistance from adults.

The play is composed of a prologue and three separate one-acts that, like Chinese boxes, could be enjoyed as independent pieces but which ultimately form an integrated whole comprised of three parts: La Casa de Luces [The House of Lights], La Red Hooded Nightingale Girl, and La Reina de la Nieve de Los Angeles [Los Angeles' Snow Queen]. Each act finds its correlation and thematic linkage to the other acts thanks to structuring features and variants that stem from folklore and children's stories, such as the Three Little Pigs, La Llorona, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Snow Queen, to name only a few. Since the audience will be composed of parents and children who symbolize, so to speak, a meeting of the East and the West—hence a metropolitan community in its inter-generational and trans-national totality—the play may be viewed as both a entertaining but no less significant: for parents and their children of various ages to engage in a dialogue based on the play's compositional themes, conflicts, and resolution.

Among the possible themes that parents and children may choose as topics of discussion are the following: the alienating impact of industry and technology in the expanding and dispersed metropolis—from the cell phone ("Can you hear me now?"), to Hollywood ("a place of lies and false dreams")--and the diminishing degree of community-related activities and spaces of conviviality for people in Lincoln Heights and, by extension, the City of Los Angeles. Thus, instead of parks or gardens, the character Xochitl (Nahuatl for "flower") settles for a potted plant: la rosa bonita (the pretty rose). In addition, the play alludes to questions of literacy and education, on the one hand, the mantra of no child left behind; on the other, the prohibition of human faculties and fundamental forms of dialogue: the use of one's imagination and the telling of stories, tales, and fables—these are verboten, forbidden, not allowed. The implicit references to George Orwell's 1984 appear at key moments in each act, illustrating the dystopia-like characteristics of Los Angeles by means of the Big-Brother-is-watching-you theme, the watchful helicopters hovering over the city's streets, and Sergeant Stone Face who orders youngsters "You must not think but buy!"

Besides the humorous scenes and imaginative mix of folklore and children's stories, 3/7/11: A Lincoln Heights Tale offers timely and most appropriate topics to be discussed in a family setting long after the play's conclusion. As fables of transition, the message or "moral" in each one of the one-acts in 3/7/11: A Lincoln Heights Tale will surely not be ignored, for it is evident that the play was written for and with the young citizens who will one day inherit this promising City of Los Angeles.

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