Let me tell you about the double shudder down the spine I had a few months ago: the Jewish-Mexican mother.
After work I sunk into the couch and thumbed through the DVR to see if there was anything good. Every Wednesday I record "Taller de actores profesionales," the Mexico City-produced program that's a carbon copy of Inside the Actors Studio. It's good. The conversations with the veteran actors, just like on the U.S. program, gravitate between the craft and the folding of life into the profession. What's beautiful, as a Spanish speaker, is hearing the level of dialogue and speech in Spanish that's so much richer than any U.S.-produced Spanish language program I've seen.
Susana Alexander was the guest. Images of 1970s and 80s telenovelas, funky guest appearances on Mexican news shows reading poetry, and a peripatetic demeanor came to mind.
She talked about her start in acting 50 years ago in Mexico City and about her German Jewish parents' escape from the Nazis. Her mother, Brigida Alexander, became the first female television producer and director in Mexico. In the early 1950s it was Brigida who took a radio play written by a Cuban and adapted it to television. The Mexican telenovela was born. And believe me, the world has not been the same since.
Susana Alexander talked to the interviewer about the Little Prince. She's produced and acted in a Mexican production of the classic French short story. The Little Prince felt responsible for his rose and everything else that he'd loved, she told the interviewer, and that's how she leads her life. That sense of responsibility led Susana Alexander to take care of her dying ex-husband.
She read about Israel Horovitz's "Line" in one of her mother's French magazines decades ago and loved the play's critique about the individual's burning desire to be the first. She translated it into Spanish and staged it in Mexico City. 30 years ago she filled Mexican theaters with a Spanish language version of Dan Greenburg's comedy "How to Be a Jewish Mother."
Listen to Susana Alexander talk and you'll hear a very distinct 1970s Mexico City inflection with liberal borrowing of working class colloquialisms. I wondered how much of her Jewish upbringing is part of what we see on stage and in film. She's coming to L.A. this coming Saturday for a production of a one-woman show (in Spanish that's espectaculo unipersonal) so I jumped at the chance of talking to her by phone.
She talked to me after a rehearsal for the play she's opening next month in Mexico City, a version of the Jewish mother play that taps into being a Jewish mother, grandmother, and mother in law. It's a dialogue of sorts, she said, with her late mother and her European upbringing, education, and values. Her parents, she said, saw themselves as German first, then Jewish and that's why they waited out Hitler's rise until 1942.
Susana feels herself Mexican. "I consider myself very Jewish but I'm not religious," she said. She prayed in a Mexican church after her father died in 1952. She married a man whose family arrived in Mexico from Spain after the Fascists took over there.
She's translated European and American plays into Spanish and produced them in Mexico City. That very well could be her greatest contribution to Mexican society. At a time when immigration to Mexico has tapered off, she's reminding typically insular Mexicans that their lagrimas y risas, laughter and tears, are stories that are part of the larger universal experience. It's hilarious to hear Susana Alexander switch into the Jewish grandmother accent and talk about her "nieta Miriam" and how "we are part of a people connected with nature and larger ideas, not connected to a computer."
"There's been xenophobia in Mexico for a long time. The Mexican is very distrustful of the foreigner whether he contributes to society or not. That's my opinion because I'm often told, 'Well, you're not from here.' Or people call me 'guerita' to put you in your place as a someone who's not the prevalent dark-skinned Mexican," she said. Improving education is the only way Mexico is going to get out of its current mess, she said.
This Saturday Susana Alexander will be performing, in Spanish, a feminist/feminine rather than Jewish one-woman show "Las mujeres no tenemos llenadero" at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock. It's an over the speed limit tour through some of what goes on in Susana Alexander's mind. She combines personal anecdotes with selections from Mexican writers such as Elena Poniatowska, Angeles Mastretta, and Guadalupe Loaeza. Producciones Tenoch, an L.A. group that stages regular trova music concerts is producing the show.
Fore more information: www.tenoch.org or (323) 997- 5825.
Poet and Journalist Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every week on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.
Photos on this post are courtesy of susanaalexander.net.