Fresno State’s theater and dance department welcomed a new director last fall: Gina Sandí-Díaz, originally from Costa Rica by way of the University of Kansas, where she received her doctorate in theater. She is the university’s first Latinx theater specialist, a welcome appointment for an officially designated Hispanic-serving institution. Sandí-Díaz’s first production for Fresno State is “Lydia,” opening Friday, March 16. The 2006 play is by Octavio Solis.
I got the chance a few weeks ago to feature a preview for “Lydia” on the March TV episode of “The Munro Review,” my monthly arts talk show produced by the Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC). I featured Sandí-Díaz and Fresno State student Ruby Arreguin, who plays the role of Lydia, on the program. I’ve trimmed the show down to just their interview in the clip above. It’s approximately 11 minutes. (You can see the entire episode here.) Here’s a brief rundown as explained by Sandí-Díaz and Arreguin:
The play: “Lydia” is a story of a Mexican-American family set in the early 1970s. The mother and father crossed the river from Mexico and settled in El Paso, Texas, to raise a family, which now includes three teenage children. A horrible accident traumatized the family, and they have a disabled child who needs care. They make the decision to hire a maid, and the person who shows up is Lydia. She’s an undocumented immigrant, and develops a special bond with different members of the family. In fact, Lydia is so chummy that deeply buried secrets are revealed. “The secrets unleash the rage of the family, and unfortunately, they take their rage out on Lydia,” Sandí-Díaz says. “What we are witnessing as audience members is how each member of the family is dealing with the accident and the aftermath of that accident.”
The tone: The themes and outcomes have tragic elements. But it does have some funny, lighthearted moments as well, says Arreguin, who describes her character as “very bold and charismatic.”
The idea of a Latinx theater specialist: Sandí-Díaz says the term is fairly new, and it reflects a push by academics and artists to make the male-dominated “Latino” a more inclusive term. “I consider it a cutting-edge thing for Fresno State, and I’m really happy that Fresno State took that initiative because they’re really listening to the demographic they are serving,” she says.
Her time in Fresno so far: “From the moment I arrived here, I felt like I immediately fit in,” Sandí-Díaz tells me on the clip. “It has been incredible just how aware the students are of needing that connection to their heritage and culture, and seeing themselves represented on stage. I am happy I can contribute to that and be a part of it, because it’s my culture as well.”
An inclusive play: One thing that drew Sandí-Díaz to “Lydia” was its three strong leading female characters. They have to deal with their own sense of identities and navigate what it means to put their Mexican heritage and American heritage together. They also have the pressure of a society that expects them to behave in certain ways as women. “It’s also about what it means to grow up and accept who you are as a woman, and be independent, she says. “I think that not just Latinas but everybody can relate to that.”
The cast: Besides Arreguin, it includes Rodolfo Robles Cruz, Jacob Gonzalez, Kenia Morales, Andrew Navarrete, Daniel Serrano, and Dalicia Torrecillas.
A caution: Due to adult language and situations, the play is intended for mature audiences only.
Details: “Lydia” opens 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 16, and continues through Saturday, March 24, at the Dennis & Cheryl Woods Theatre, Fresno State. Tickets are $17 general, $15 seniors, $10 students.
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