The virtual plays "Watermelon Kisses" and "Marisol's Christmas" each highlight significant themes: immigration and the importance of family. While these motifs are universally experienced, the two performances, written by José Cruz González and produced by UO’s theater department, show how these topics specifically relate to the Latinx community.
"Watermelon Kisses'' opens with two brothers, Quetzál and Tláloc — named after the Aztec and Mayan gods — eating fresh watermelon on a summer day, as they help their father mow the lawn. Quetzál (Fausto Corral) is the older brother who comes off with a "too cool for school" vibe and begins to play around with his gullible, younger brother, Tláloc (Diego Millan). As the scene progresses, Quetzál influences Tláloc to believe that a watermelon will grow inside his stomach after eating a watermelon seed. This leads to a playful dispute between the brothers. The audience gets a front-row seat to a brotherly song and dance until one of them comes out on top.
"Anyone with older siblings will recognize the push and pull of love and rivalry, trust and teasing in the relationship of Tláloc and Quetzál," director Theresa May said. Cast members also shared how "Watermelon Kisses" reminded them of their relationship with their families.
"The two little brothers just reminded me of my older sisters when we would help my Pa cut the grass and I really enjoyed that," Corral said, explaining his inspiration for playing the role of Quetzál. "I was always the younger and nerdy little brother to my older sisters, so I had to look at them and how they would act."
Corral was also the cultural consultant and language coach for the production. He helped ensure cast members properly spoke Spanish, and portrayed an appropriate representation of the culture and of Latinx individuals.
Positive representation of the Latinx community was a crucial goal for the cast members. "One of the biggest things I want to convey to the audience is that immigrants are humans," Analiz Wickham, who plays Mami and Cometa in "Marisol's Christmas," said. "They are not people to be feared or who are inherently bad. They are just people trying to make a better life."
Millan explained how the common roles that are offered to Hispanics are often negative portrayals of themselves. "You could play a drug dealer, a gangbanger or a gardener,” he said. “You know, that was about it. So to have these plays center around these characters in a positive way drew me to become involved."
Immigration is a major component that drives the story in "Marisol's Christmas." As the play begins, the viewer is introduced to a tight-knit family of three crossing the Mexico–United States border on Christmas Eve. However, it is soon discovered that Marisol (Shawntral Turner) and her Papi, played by Millan, are separated from Marisol’s mother. In order to help Marisol muddle through this drastic change in her life, Papi tells her a story as they wait under a freeway overpass, hoping for Mami’s return, utilizing random objects on the side of the road. In her Director's Notes, May describes how this story "expresses resilience, creativity, and faith in a possible future" for immigrant families in the U.S.
The performance also includes segments of singing, showcasing Wickham's sopratic notes and Turner's soft voice that aided her performance as an innocent and bubbly child. Throughout the play, popular songs among the Latinx community were sung such as "El Burrito Sabanero'' and a warmhearted performance of "Noche De Paz" sung by Millan. With the incorporated sound effects that helped the performance feel realistic, and the subtle references to Latinx culture and history through costumes, “Marisol’s Christmas” tells a touching and light-hearted story of an immigrant family's journey to a new country.
The cast and crew also met playwright González during rehearsals and explained how this experience helped their performances. "It was such a fun and great experience being able to understand him and the stories," Turner said. "His feedback really impacted us heavily. The performances just got 10 times better after meeting him and the energy just stayed higher after that."
May also expressed that she has wanted to direct González's plays for many years now. Throughout the process of directing these plays, the team "learned something more that goes to the heart of the themes of both plays — that love can bridge distance and difference in ways that we never dreamed,” she said.