An Interview with
the director of FELIZ - AN AMERICAN PLAY
Rosa Lisbeth Navarrete
We are so excited to open our third season with a world premiere: FELIZ - AN AMERICAN PLAY, written by Michael J. Mejia, directed by Rosa Lisbeth Navarrete. We sat down with Rosa to get an inside scoop on the production.
What is your relationship to Feliz - An American Play? Why did you want to do this play?
I was drawn to the world of Feliz - An American Play upon reading the first few lines. It had an ominous feeling that intrigued me. The world is introduced to us with an angel, sounds of Christmas music, and later a disjointed family trying to keep it together for the holidays — and being an Agnostic daughter of a Christian pastor — I was immediately hooked. The play has elements of magical realism; an other-worldly-vibe that kept me invested in the character conflicts. In the end, so much is unearthed that one can’t help but ask themselves, what type of secrets are co-existing with me today?
I loved that the play starts with a seemingly perfect home, then very quickly takes us into a frantic conversation between a couple who concern themselves with appearances. There is more than meets the eye in this family, and the collected little white lies and dark secrets from past and present begin to percolate to the surface. Until the point of no return.
I wanted to do this play because I identified with the characters and the world. I loved that they were Latinx/Mexican-American and had clear archetypes. There’s a saying in Latin America, “Caras vemos, pero corazones no sabemos,” which translates to You may see their face, but you don’t know their heart.
The issues arising in the family could happen to anyone and in anyone’s home. Themes of addiction, gossip, inappropriate desires, deception, secrets, closeted feelings, and gun violence all make an appearance. Writer Michael J. Mejia has been working on this piece for ten years, and the world is still relevant and necessary for our times today. From the #metoo movement, to the nation’s opioid problem, to the fight against gun violence — this play has it all. It feels urgent and is relatable, no matter what your background or personal identity. There is something for you to connect with in this play.
Feliz features a predominately Latinx/Mexican-American cast, why is that important for now, and to you specifically?
The presence of Latinx/Mexican-American communities in today’s world is being undermined, challenged, and othered. Past micro-aggressions are amplifying and becoming obstacle courses for our children and families. Finding safe spaces on campuses, recreational spaces, work environments, and even escaping into our headphones is no longer enough. As a community we are being attacked for our very existence in this country. It’s almost as if people would like to erase us out of history, but that is impossible because we are America. Specially anyone of Mexican decent who lives on this land, and who may be indigenous to this land. That is why sometimes you may hear someone say, I am fifth generation Mexican-American, for example. It means they’ve been here from the beginning. The land is rich, and this country is not that old.
This misconceptions of “the good old days” and what the U.S. used to look like tends to neglect the presence of Indigenous/Mexican-American/Latinx peoples that have been here all along. This rhetoric undermines the contributions that Indigenous/Mexican-American/Latinx people’s have done for this country. This includes industrial contributions (who built the city?), rural contributions (where does your food come from?), and even fighting in wars that some in our political sphere haven’t participated in. We are kept a secret in history books and in popular media. Thus we become invisible and others assume we’ve had no access to theater, the arts, or media. Art has been part of our ancestral cultures for centuries, but when we are not seen in popular culture we are erased and seen less than. This is why #RepresentationMatters. This is why our children are so hungry to see themselves represented in television, theater, music and more. Our presence allows for visibility and inclusion. Making work that is written by, directed by, and starring Latinx/Mexican-American people — revolutionary.
This is important to me. Because I support movements and creative artists who make our stories universal and re-humanize our experience. I will continue to work towards a future that will embrace all of our peoples. Because we belong here, our stories belong here, and our children belong here.
To this day our neighbors from adjacent countries who are seeking asylum are being separated from their children and infants — causing long term psychological trauma, which will only keep the oppressed in a cycle of inferiority. There is power in controlling a mass of people who feel inferior. This is no accident. There is also power in media and how these families are perceived. I wonder sometimes if the lack of our presence in popular culture is what makes us so disposable to many who turn a blind eye. How do we speak about these families at the border? We rise up as creatives and professionals to tell our stories, and to re-humanize our experiences with all communities. So that the violence happening to these families can be eradicated. So that we can be seen with dignity and not as invisible people. Also, we are not a monolithic experience. There are countless of untold stories living inside of young Indigenous/Latinx/Mexican-American people’s journals right now that need to be told. Feliz - An American Play should not be the only Latinx/Mexican-American play invited to perform in brave and welcoming spaces like The Wayward Artist. For real change, for a shift in the narrative, for advancement of our communities in the arts — we have to do this type of work over, and over, and over again. Until people realize, that this story is like any nominated Oscar film — a human experience. Secrets seldom stay dormant, and that’s why we are here. To share the incredible and growing talents in our community. Thank you Santa Ana Arts for giving Michael-Miguel Productions this grant to fulfill their vision.
Our stories will connect with all audiences because struggle is universal. As artists we must challenge the status quo. It wasn’t that long ago that having someone like me in an art institution would be seen as impossible. But here we are. Shift is happening and we must celebrate the wins, so that doors swing open for many more of us who have stories to tell. We are valuable artists with something to say and much to give ALL audiences. I also urge my community to support each other deeply — from Mexican, Salvadoran, Peruvian, Honduran, Brazilian, and more. When we are united, we are stronger. The more we support each other, the richer the work gets, and that makes us undeniable.
And finally, here are some key elements in the play that get me excited about the rehearsal process to come:
- The presence of LGBTQIA+ family members at a dinner table. More education needs to happen around the queer and trans communities. Feliz - An American Play has the potential to educate or begin the healing process for parents who struggle with identity in themselves or their children.
- The idea of sacrifice. Especially when it means leaving home in search for a better future for your family. What is being sacrificed in the process of chasing a dream? Though the concept of immigration is subtle in this play, it is ever present when I read it. The danger of silence; like families staying quiet to survive in this country. The departure of the feminine spirit, the mother — all bring forth images of La Virgen, Catholicism, and assimilation. The sacrifice of self to blend in.
- Tackling individualism. What is the price of success for those of us who come from big families? Is there support? Competition? What is the price of perfectionism? What happens when you uproot yourself and plant your family in new soil? Do you grow together or apart? What traumas are picked up in the process of trying to belong to a mold?
- And finally, humor! There are comedic moments in this story that are so real, you can’t help but laugh. Humor has a beautiful way of contrasting trauma. This is how many of us who have difficult stories get through life, laughter is huge in our Latinx/Mexican-American communities. I am excited for you to see it.
What do you want audiences to walk away with after seeing Feliz - An American Play?
The story has so much to offer. The facade of a happy marriage, family home for the holidays, a closeted husband, two desperate house wives, a man using power for his salacious and inappropriate doings, a young boy trapped in his identity, a neglected grandmother returning to her native land, and a lover who’s very presence disrupts space and time.
I hope audiences are haunted by the story and reflect upon their own secrets. What have they seeded in their lives? Everyone in the play becomes untethered by the few last pages. Though the ending is difficult, there is also a release. A type of freedom that can come from truth-telling.
I want the audience to walk away with realizing that they have a lot in common with these characters, whether or not they identify as them. I hope that our stories continue to be told, and that there is hunger for more to be developed and shared. Thank you.
FELIZ - AN AMERICAN PLAY runs April 17th to May 1st. Get your tickets now!