Review: LA VIRGEN DE GUADALUPE DIOS INANTZIN at Latino Theatre Company

This LA tradition does not disappoint.

By: Dec. 04, 2023
Review: LA VIRGEN DE GUADALUPE DIOS INANTZIN at Latino Theatre Company

It’s hard to know what to expect from a theatrical performance in a church. It is even more difficult to prepare for a show performed in a cathedral which touches upon the conquistadors who forcibly brought Catholicism to the lands on which the show is being performed. After all, as actors portraying indigenous peoples grapple with the iron fists of a Spanish bishop, the looming presence of a crucifix seems to tease of the endpoint of the argument. La Virgen de Guadalupe Dios Inantzin presented by Latino Theatre Company at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels has much more polish and dramatic flair than one might be expecting from a free event showcasing over 100 community members, and more nuance and heart than one might be expecting from a show that has become a highly-anticipated holiday tradition.

A fistful of professional actors lead the charge, and they hit upon the story notes with a Shakespearean broadness that fills the cathedral space up to the rafters. Elia Saldana is stunning as La Virgen de Guadalupe. Her poise and crystal clear voice lend a bonafide saintliness to her presence which is enhanced by the fact the audience never sees her walk. She simply appears about the space as a vision. Sal López’ Juan Diego is honest and simple. His voice is languid and rich as he sings a ballad pleading for mercy from La Virgen. Geoffrey Rivas, Xavi Moreno, and Richard Azurdia lend a delightful comedic touch to the evening as a trio of Spanish friars. Their interpretations of the characters are broad enough to delight children sitting in the back, but never become too schtick-y as to cheapen the overall effect of the performance.

It feels like a slight to write about this piece as just another theatrical performance offered this time of year. The community clearly comes out in droves to hear the choral narrations, see the beautiful artistry of Vanessa M. Gomez’ tilmas, and celebrate a treasured story. However, the most striking element of the evening is far and above the group of over 30 Danzantes in opulent Aztec costumes who pour down the aisles of the cathedral with a distinctive rustle. The Aztec dance honoring the Náhuatl earth mother, Tonantzin is profoundly powerful to witness performed in front of a back-lit crucifix. When General Lazaro Arvizu and Totocani Garcia perform the White Eagle Dance, the audience is captivated. Somehow, this piece of theatre with a clear dramatic structure manages to traipse into the realm of communal ritual with ease.

I did not know what to expect from this piece of theatre being performed in a church, but as I left, one thing was already clear in my mind: I can’t wait to attend next year!