Banner photo: Tina D’Elia as Lupe Vélez
Tina D’Elia Weaves Latina Activism into Solo Comedy
by Patricia L. Morin
The premise of “Overlooked Latinas” is brilliant. Tina D’Elia spotlights the political power of famous 1930s to 50s Latina movie stars in her gripping solo show about Angel, an aspiring lesbian TV writer. As Angel the screenwriter, D’Elia depicts how these mid-Twentieth Century Latinx stars activated a cultural revolution.
D’Elia plays all nine characters, and like a carousel, they come and go rapidly. You have stay alert to keep up with her pace. Her quick movement, fast speech, and distinctive facial expressions surpass mere words.
Thanks to D’Elia’s many-faceted talent, Ramón Novarro, Dolores Del Rio, and Lupe Vélez all appear. They are also facing Senator McCarthy’s savage 50s witch hunt for “communists” and gays in Hollywood, setting up a public struggle.
Latina Hollywood stars, including LGBTQ women, expose the U.S. Immigration Service’s mistreatment of Latin people. Angel’s multi-layered story reveals a passionate condemnation of U.S. hypocrisy and obvious racism.
The story features feisty lesbian writer Angel Torres (expressive Tina D’Elia), and her beloved producer, lesbian Mr. Carla Garcia (also D’Elia). They have just achieved their dream: their own TV Series! The series will star sexy Latina idol Rita Hayworth. This “new” Rita proclaims her mad crush on Angel—adding layers of comic jealousy.
The producer with a high-pitched voice, Mr. Carla, Angel’s best friend, keeps her/his eyes on Angel—capturing our hearts. Their grandfatherly Jewish press agent Mr. Markowitz is equally lovable. Together, they display D’Elia’s amazing virtuosity, as we enjoy a fun romp mixed with a bit of slapstick humor.
While the soap opera script serves as façade, our Angel has a life. She is married to Lena Anne Horne, once a prominent Jazz singer, who wants to have a baby. Lovely Lena carries a turkey baster in case she meets the right man.
In the 70-minute show, D’Elia transforms herself into a rainbow of clever characters. Some stories fade, while others shout out to defend perennially persecuted immigrants who deserve attention and respect.
When the “Hollywood Ten” get blacklisted for so-called “communism,” Angel turns to another movie star, Rosaura Revueltas, for a role model. Ironically, Revueltas, “fierce as an activist,” gets arrested and jailed while filming “The Salt of the Earth.” She suffers the wrath of the Red Scare—deported as a “communist”—never to work in the U.S. again.
When we hear Anita Ellis singing “Put the Blame on Mame,” we see that all these powerful Latinas have been unfairly blamed for Hollywood’s missteps. Pandemic anti-Communism took a terrible toll in the 50s, as many Latinx people faced expulsion.
Be sure to watch for quick quips and surprising stories in Angel’s cliché- and fun-filled TV series. Tina D’Elia, a powerful and touching solo performer, makes me want to see and know more about these hidden heroes.
“Overlooked Latinas” by Tina D’Elia, directed by Mary Guzmán, at Theatre Rhinoceros, San Francisco. Info: TheRhino.org – to October 1, 2023.
Cast: Tina D’Elia (all the roles)