Ana María Rodas: One Story, Spanning Three Generations

Cast of "Poemas de la Izquierda Erotica al Teatro" from left: Amanda Macal, Jorge Cabrera, Patricia Veliz Macal, and Carla Osorio. Jorge Laparra not appearing in image. | Photo: Rudik Osorio.

In "Poemas de la Izquierda Erótica al Teatro," or "Poems from the Erotic Left to Theater," three generations of actresses come together on-stage to represent the different phases of Ana María Rodas, a Guatemalan journalist and poet. Line up three generations of women and one can see -- in the lines that trace their face and the way they walk across a room -- each is a manifestation of one another. The daughter represents her mother's energy, the mother represents the grandmother's self-realization, and the grandmother encompases the wisdom acquired by all three.

Although the play is not a biography of 75-year-old Rodas, the three main characters are versions of the author based on the six poems she wrote in "Poemas de la Izquierda Erótica," her first poetry collection published in 1973. The three fictional "Anas" provide emotional context for Rodas' poems and they weave a narrative depicting how the poet lived in full color, during an era of black and white. Rodas as a singular identity becomes pluralized as the actors portray her various ages; instead of "she" her collective selves become "they." The fictional Anas mirror Rodas as a writer with "a little journalist's salary," and reference fond memories of the poet's native country. Born in 1937, the Anas lived passionately in a time when women were not allowed to desire. They collapsed under the pressures of heartbreak and emerged from it triumphantly because they "had no other remedy than to write."

The play is showing at Teatro Frida Kahlo, which is operated by the nonprofit Grupo de Teatro SINERGIA. The arts organization works in partnership with the city's Department of Cultural Affairs in managing the William Reagh Los Angeles Photography Center at the same venue. Located in the densely populated Rampart District, the theater focuses on social justice issues and serves as a platform to tell the stories of the residents within its five-mile radius, primarily immigrant groups from Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Mexico.

Winning a Freedom of Speech award from the Guatemalan Journalists Association in 1974, Rodas has been called the mother of Guatemalan feminist poetry. She is a staple of the Latin American Boom, a literary revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Despite her contributions to Spanish-language literature, she has remained unknown outside of Guatemala's cultural circles. Carla Osorio, 28, who was born in Guatemala, and raised in Los Angeles, plays the 20-something-year-old version of Rodas. Osorio admits she never heard of the poet before this play. "It's more of the intellectual and Bohemian community who know about her," Osorio said. Director Jorge Cabrera agrees that people on the street aren't likely to know Rodas. "Poetry is not a product of mass consumption. I think this play will expose people to her poetry and will pique their interest in poets of other nationalities as well," he says.

The play opens with the entire cast on stage, including all versions of Ana, Elvira Rios, and Alfredo.
The play opens with the entire cast on stage, including all versions of Ana, Elvira Rios, and Alfredo.

Beginning with a poem named after Rodas' birthdate, "Domingo 12 de septiembre, 1937," the play and the poems tackle gender roles, attitudes about virginity and purity, the bitterness that comes with age and infidelity, and the strength that comes from overcoming toxic relationships.

Onstage, Ana longs for the days when she "destroyed" beds with her husband during their carefree honeymoon: "Oh how I remember Panajachel. Its lake and its waters that never stopped rolling. It suddenly brings back to me all that old love that made us tremble." But her husband's disinterest grows every time he returns home from his artistic trips, penniless and hiding the traces of new lovers. Reciting Rodas' poem, Ana invites the audience to stop faking smiles and stand up for their desires:


Ya no sonriamos
ya no más falsas vírgenes
Ni mártires que esperan en la cama
el salivazo ocasional del macho.

Let's not smile any longer
no longer fake virgins
Nor martyrs who wait in bed
for the occasional lick from the male


The theatrical adaptation of "Poemas" was born earlier this year in a hospital room when the cast members, and longtime friends, visited Cabrera. The 58-year-old lawyer, actor, writer, and director, had lymphatic cancer. Still tearing up when telling the story, Veliz Macal said they all decided to produce a play together as a testament to Cabrera's recovery. "At that point of my life, with my medical complications, receiving an invitation to work on a new artistic project was extremely motivating," Cabrera said. Following treatment for a tumor at City of Hope, Cabrera and his team began planning the play in March when he regained his strength. Now, with lifted spirits, he has been doing double duty on this adaptation by directing and playing the object of Ana's tears and inspiration -- her husband Alfredo.

With the exception of Osorio who was born after the other cast members met in 1974, the intergenerational group has worked together since meeting in a theater class offered in Guatemala City's Academia Popular. Cast members Amanda Macal, 74, her daughter Patricia Veliz Macal, 46, and Jorge Laparra, 56, look back on their Guatemalan acting days fondly.

The three phases of Ana's life are played by the three generations of Macal women. Osorio, a social worker, plays the period in which Ana is curious about life and interested in learning more about her own sexuality. Veliz Macal, a life coach and manager of a women's empowerment group at Planned Parenthood -- and Osorio's mother -- plays the era when Ana blossoms from being the loyal wife of a nomadic and unfaithful artist to the confident writer who publishes her bold poetry unapologetically. Amanda Macal -- Patricia Veliz Macal's mother -- plays the more mature version of Ana who looks back on her poems' painful inspiration, as well as the accomplishments she achieved when she followed her heart.

Amanda Macal began studying acting to appease her yearning for it since she was a child. Her separation from her husband pushed her to pursue her dream. Veliz Macal joined to support her mother.

Laparra, a teacher in Guatemala and now a fashion sample maker in Los Angeles, says he feels very comfortable in his role as Mexican singer Elvira Rios in "Poemas." He recalls Cabrera's involvement in Guatemalan theater gave the new group of friends access to interesting roles and experiences. Independent of theater, the lives of all five led them to the U.S. and the group began working together again in Los Angeles in 1994. "It's very exciting to represent my country here in Los Angeles," Laparra says. "It's a little sad because we don't have much support for theater from Guatemalans here. But hopefully our work to create an audience for it will create a big movement for Guatemalan theater abroad."

Their comfort level has helped them collaborate and critique each other in a family environment. A couple of weeks ahead of opening day, the actors would break character during rehearsal to help each other remember lines, suggest changes to improve delivery, laugh in each other's company, or simply embrace. "You could have a bad day but when you come to rehearsal, you leave it all behind," said Veliz Macal as she stretched before reading through lines.

Carla Osorio plays Ana's early days.
Carla Osorio plays Ana's early days.

The elder Macal celebrates Rodas for her courage to discuss sexual desire in a time when women were not expected to talk about it. She identifies with the character, and even more with the poet, because they are only a year apart. "In those times, things were beginning to change. That tradition of a woman obeying her elders and then her husband blindly, it was changing," Macal says. "There's a bit of her inside me. When I left [my husband] of 18 years, I just left with my kids and their clothes." And she never looked back. "I travel to Guatemala to visit my son, I travel to Australia to visit my daughter. I have lived a tranquil life 'after the fact.' After I left him. I decided what I needed to do and I did it," Macal says.

Rodas will not be able to visit from Guatemala to attend the show but she sent words of encouragement and gratitude to the cast: "One never knows where you will find that something that will fill your soul and heart completely. But there you all are."

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The cast is expecting a good turnout of Guatemalans due to their relationships to this community in Los Angeles, including the Guatemalan Counsel Pablo Garcia.

Although the play, like the poetry, is written in Spanish and the slang and cultural references are characteristically Guatemalan, the "Poemas" message is universal, according to Veliz Macal. "The play will impact the community by presenting a feminist message and shedding light on the voice of the Latin woman," she says.


"Poemas" opens Friday, August 29 at 8 pm at Frida Kahlo Theater in Westlake and has two additional shows Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit the show's Facebook page.


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