Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Latino Theater Co’s Whittier Boulevard Opens Tonight

Evelina Fernández, Sal Lopez, Lucy Rodriguez and Geoffrey Rivas in Whittier Boulevard. Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography.

The Latino Theater Company operates the LA Theater Center downtown, and the group’s unique productions bring the former bank building to life. Opening tonight is the world premiere of Whittier Boulevard, an original, ensemble-created work blending comedy, drama, music and a touch of the spiritual.

Whittier Boulevard presents Los Angeles 20 years in the future, a city brought to its knees by torrential rains, fires and violence. The government acts to remove the burdensome elderly from society, but aging Chicana star Veronica Del Rio isn’t going without a fight.

Company members Evelina Fernández, Sal Lopez, Lucy Rodriguez and Geoffrey Rivas wrote and perform in Whittier Boulevard; Jose Luis Valenzuela wrote and directs. We asked the ensemble, which has been together for 38 years, about the process of creating this exciting new show together.

Whittier Boulevard covers a lot of ground. How would you say it fits into the canon of the Latino Theater Company? 

Jose Luis Valenzuela. Photo courtesy of Latino Theater Company.

Jose Luis Valenzuela  Investigating our own style of Chicano-Noir, following the productions of Solitude and Premeditation, the company embarked on a creation process that helps us discuss issues that are relevant to us. It is important for the Latino theater canon to create pieces that record our history, from August 29, A Mexican Trilogy, The Mother of Henry, Sleep with the Angels and so on.

Sal Lopez. Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography.

Sal Lopez  This new piece is part of an aesthetic that we have collectively developed through the process of improv and chiming in creatively. We pitch our ideas and bits to each other, and if we think it’s funny or it resonates with what we are trying to say in a witty way, we go for it. It requires trust, which we have developed with one another over time.

This is obviously a show with many messages. The themes of freedom, aging, cultural identity, spirituality and the value of history run deep. Did you set out to make a show with messages, did they arise from the story, or was it more of a back and forth?

SL  We did set out to talk about those themes when we got together to discuss what we wanted to write about. The topics in the play were things that mattered and had meaning to us. Respect for the elderly, the loss of stories, history, and era, when we lose an elder. The lack of reverence for the elderly, unlike in other cultures. The theme of angels came from discussions of how we as human beings are capable of touching the divine within us. And how our cynicism, egos and selfishness can get in our way.

Evelina Fernandez. Photo by Chaz Photographics.

Evelina Fernández  I don’t think we set out to write a message play, but we definitely have something to say about so many things after 38 years of creating together. This was created collectively, but individually we are passionate about different things. So as we took turns writing and rewriting scenes, our views naturally made it into the script. Of course, there are many things we all feel passionate about such as ageism and holding on to our history.

JLV  First came the story and the characters, so the messages came out of the story, in understanding our future and our present. Ageism is a big question for everybody in the country right now. How the elders are not taken into consideration, regardless of their knowledge and wisdom. In the Mexican culture, older people are revered and respected.

The show presents a bleak view of the future. Do you see it as a cautionary tale about what can happen if we’re not careful?

Geoffrey Rivas. Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography.

GR  Very much so, our democracy is being pushed to limits never experienced before.

EF  Yes, “cautionary tale” is a term that keeps coming around during this process. In the time since we began writing the play, books have been banned, Roe vs. Wade was reversed and “Don’t say gay” laws are popping up around the country. Many rights have been taken away.

JLV  That should really be the tagline for the show. A cautionary tale! We should be aware of the consequences of losing our rights if we don’t do anything.

SL  It is definitely a cautionary tale, but hopefully also an inspiring tale that asks us to reflect on who we are and what we could be.

The COVID-19 pandemic comes up several times in the show, which predicts its long-term effects on those who lived through it. What role did the pandemic play in the writing process?

JLV  We began writing the play during the pandemic, consequently there is a lot in the play about what we were going through.

EF  We began writing the play at the height of the pandemic for our virtual Re-Encuentro 2021 that didn’t take place in person due to COVID. So, yes, it was with us, we were living it as we wrote.

SL  Covid played a large role in that when we first started the process we were meeting on Zoom and everyone was reflecting on this global pause that the pandemic forced upon us.

Evelina Fernández in Whittier Boulevard. Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography.

With a script written by the entire cast and director, Whittier Boulevard is unique. Could each of you describe the ensemble writing process from your perspective?

EF  As the resident playwright for the company, it was both exhilarating and challenging. Exhilarating because it was a shared responsibility and not all on me. I didn’t feel the pressure I do when I am the sole playwright. Challenging because I had to be open to everybody’s ideas about character development, structure and different writing styles. We all took turns writing scenes, and then someone else would rewrite it out of necessity or out of passion for the scene. We began with personal monologues and a skeleton of a plot and at that point we called it our “Frankenstein” play because we were putting different pieces together to try to make it walk. But as the process went on it got easier. We began to know each other’s strengths, and took it from there. We are still tweaking and rewriting while in previews, so that process is still very much alive.

SL  Under the leadership of Jose Luis Valenzuela, our director, we decided on four characters: an actress, a caregiver, a policeman and a poet. That way we could present different perspectives of the world we were going to create. We started with an outline then began by writing monologues. Eventually, we put them in a skeleton structure. Then we continued to add to the background of the characters to fill out the story we had created.

GR  It was challenging, yet rewarding when scenes that were written out of order for characters that aren’t you come together.

Jose Luis, the extensive projections, lighting and soundscape add so much to this show. How were these elements developed and what do you see as their purpose?

JLV  In the development of the style during the rehearsal, we knew we needed the kind of lighting that is much more mysterious. It needed to be architectural, since noir comes from modernism and its development. With the sound, we understand that the sound tells the story by itself, with punctuation to make the characters aware of danger and allow the audience to participate in the play and make them accomplices. The sound is also influenced by the musical history of the Chicano community.

The projections helps illuminate the passage of the history, like cruising Whittier Boulevard, the history of the movie star. The idea is that the exterior world is present all the time; the city is burning. The news captures so much of our time and imagination, the danger of the smoke coming in, the melting of ice. Each projection moment had a lot of discussion about how it could allow us to get deeper into the story or contradict the story, and how the spiritual idea of our divinity as humans contributes to the development of the characters and the story in general.

Did Whittier Boulevard pose any special writing and directorial challenges?

JLV  Yes, many. How we do noir and at the same time allow the audience to become a participant in the story. How the rhythms of the scenes are so crucial to the entire show. How to take away from the script the unnecessary text. And how to build suspense and at the same time have fun.

For the actors, how did you help shape your character and what elements of his/her persona were most important to you to represent? 

Lucy Rodriguez. Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography.

EF   We wanted to write about ageism, that’s how this all started.  Jose Luis came up with the first take on the story: An aging actress and her caregiver and then we came up with an outline and began by writing monologues for our characters. We wrote the first draft quickly. Lucy [Rodriguez] wrote most of the early scenes and so she kind of set the style in motion and then the rest of us chose scenes from the outline to write.

We filmed the first version of the play for the virtual Re-Encuentro and it was good, but we all decided we needed to keep working on it and we’ve been working on it ever since. Each one of us wrote a personal monologue for the character we play, but we have all worked on fleshing out all of the characters together. Of course, we each continue discovering and tweaking our individual characters through the rehearsal process.

GR  We all tried our best to follow the arcs not only of the character we were portraying but all the others as well. We are still tweaking the script.

SL  We wrote about our own characters depending on how much we felt was needed so that each character was fully developed. Even though my character had selfish interests and perhaps perpetuated his own bad luck, he needed to find redemption in the end.

Virtually  all of the characters grow and change as they become more aware of the societal forces they are either victim of or responsible for. How do each of the actors feel about their character’s transformation? 

GR  As this is a new piece, it is still growing. We are doing our best to make sure we all have full arcs.

EF  Veronica del Rio is a self-centered Chicana has-been movie star who lives within the fantasy of her fame. When the outside world enters her house she has the face the truth of the world she is living in. She must face the fact that she is old and that society wants to discard her like so much unwanted flesh and bones. It’s a harsh realization and she must decide if she is willing to do what’s necessary for the greater good.  She is a beautiful character, I love her!

SL  The idea is that at the end each character finds the touch of divinity that all of us humans are capable of reaching.


Whittier Boulevard runs through May 28 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S Spring St. Discounted parking is available in the lot just south of the theater. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 4:00pm, as well as two Mondays, May 1 and May 15 at 8:00pm. Tickets are $48 ($58 for tonight’s premiere) and can be purchased here.


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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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