Downey resident directs new play at LA Theater Center — The Downey Patriot
LOS ANGELES – Theater fans still have this weekend to catch the world premiere of “Desert Stories for Lost Girls” which is currently taking place at the Los Angeles Theater Center through Sunday, October 16.
This play by Lily Rushing, about family, identity and colonialism in the South West, is presented thanks to the collaboration of the Latino Theater Company and Native Voices at Autry.
The director is Sylvia Cervantes Blush, a resident of Downey and a frequent participant in the local southeast art scene.
Rushing drew on her own family history to tackle an aspect of colonialism and Southwestern history that is gaining prominence – the indentured servitude of Indigenous individuals who subsequently lost all family ties and tribal.
The disparate group of survivors, primarily from the Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, Navajo, Pawnee, and Ute tribes, became known as the Genízaro.
“It’s an important piece of American Southwest history that needs to be heard,” says Cervantes Blush. “I think the playwright has done an incredible job creating a play about a very haunting past in a beautiful and poetic way.”
The practice of purchasing war captives from local indigenous tribes was exploited by Spanish colonizers who used captured people to work in households, raise cattle, and serve in the Spanish border militia. Spanish and then American colonizers also carried out direct kidnappings. While captives were allowed to earn their freedom and settle in local towns, the violent and abusive experiences left deep scars.
The fallout from this servitude ran through the generations as ties to family and ancestors were severed. Often the victims of such injustice and violence did not want to share painful memories with their own children and grandchildren.
Rushing discovered this heritage within her family when she and her mother began researching census reports. The women were able to trace family ties to Rushing’s great-great-grandmother who had been enslaved in her youth and forced to give a child to adoptive parents.
In Rushing’s play, eighteen-year-old Carrie comes up against such family mysteries when she moves in with her grandmother Rosa, who appears to be suffering from dementia.
The family’s story unfolds for the audience through dreamlike visitations, Rosa’s efforts to explain her memories, and the appearance of Plácida – Carrie’s great-great-grandmother, an unstable spirit who was raped and forced to abandon her son. This layered storytelling is well served by Cervantes Blush’s talent for evocative and theatrical direction.
While Rushing’s play is rooted in the particular historical events of colonialism, there is a universality to its themes. Everywhere, women are uniquely targeted while men wage war and seek to subjugate one another. Children who are abducted and lose their families find themselves with deep questions of identity. The trauma of violent events often becomes generational. Given the current charged political climate in this country and around the world, these issues are unfortunately deeply relevant today.
Cervantes Blush grew up near Bell Gardens and says she was immediately captivated by the performing arts after a high school class. She majored in theater as an undergrad, attended Cerritos Community College and Cal State Long Beach, and earned an MFA from UCLA.
His myriad accomplishments include two productions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and a unique South Coast Repertory collaborative production staged at Santa Ana Civic Center, The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy.
Cervantes Blush’s professional work ranges from comedy to tragedy. Of all her projects, she says that the most significant for her are two that she carried out with her family and friends.
The first was a series of one-act plays written by her husband Bill Blush, Bill’s Shorts, and produced with actors in a 99-seat theater format at the local Epic Lounge.
“Bill’s Shorts (Part One and Two) was a lot of work in a short amount of time with people I respect and admire as artists,” says Cervantes Blush, “and to do it here locally was awesome.”
Theater during the pandemic
His other project highlighted was a virtual theater experience made with his family and friends, including children, during the pandemic: SHEL Silverstein News, a 30-minute video viewable on YouTube.