Grace Gealey, Laurine Price, and Sun Mee Chomet.
Photo by Rich Ryan
Over the past few years, California-based director Mark Valdez has come to the cold of Minneapolis to direct at Mixed Blood Theatre, from adapting The Pajama Game into a bilingual piece to helming last year's madcap Learn to be Latina.
Valdez's latest effort for the company, Molly Smith Metzler's Elemeno Pea, takes a caustic view of class war. At the start, he had a simple question. "What's the Mixed Blood take on this play? It's set on Martha's Vineyard among the wealthy. What would a Mixed Blood production look like?" he says.
What does it look like? A snapshot of the changing demographics of America. The cast features several biracial and non-white performers. "When you do a production at this particular theater, race and ethnicity are on the table. I think that's good. Part of the play has to do with pretending to be something other than what you are, and adding that layer of race to it just adds more depth. It makes it more complicated," Valdez says.
The play centers on two sisters. Simone is the personal assistant to a wealthy couple who own the swank Martha's Vineyard home. The other, Devon, is a social worker from Buffalo who is visiting her sister over Labor Day weekend.
The play's conversation around class is something that Valdez finds "really complex and exciting. As a country, we are trying to find ways to talk about class, and this is a nice piece about it," he says. "[The play] starts of with 'rich people are like that, and poor people are like that,' and then she just keeps messing that up. As you follow the journey, your own assumptions get muddled. At the end, you are confused and slightly embarrassed and wanting to have a do-over.
"Nationally, that's where we are. You are part of the 99 or 1 percent; economic justice or class warfare. It's so polarized. It's easy to demonize the uber-privileged or the welfare mom. We don't have a way into it. Molly's play really does it. It finds the middle, and it is messy and beautiful. It's almost hard to watch that rawness."
The cast helps out in the process, especially with issues of race on the table. "We can't be oblivious to it. We can't ignore it. It helps make it our production. They were given permission to be themselves and to bring the things that they are to the play," Valdez says.
The company includes Grace Gealey, Sun Mee Chomet, Laurine Price, Ron Menzel, and Pedro Bayon.
All of it -- from working on a show like Elemeno Pea to the actors to the production design -- is part of the draw for Valdez.
"Working here is amazing because you have an audience that is highly sophisticated around issues of race. They want complex depictions. They don't want the 'white bad, color good.' And you have a theater organization that actively seeks out complex conversations," he says.
In previews Thursday; opens Friday through March 17
Mixed Blood Theatre
1501 S. Fourth St., Minneapolis
Free, first-come, first-served at the door; $20 online reservation
For more information, call 612.338.6131 or visit online