The Hispanic Women’s Project: Inspired, Inspiring, GO!

The Hispanic Women’s Project: Inspired, Inspiring, GO!


Resolution, Cast

Resolution, Cast

Now you see them.

Now you don’t.

Mostly you don’t.

They hide because they are illegal.

No, not illegal.



Rosa, Boss Lady, Coyote, Renata

Rosa, Boss Lady, Coyote, Renata

But the walls will come crashing down when you attend – and you must attend –Jennie Franks’ gripping, shocking new play, “The Hispanic Women’s Project,” featuring stories of heartbreak and violence, of disappointment and bravery, now through Sunday, July 31, at the Sheridan Opera House. The production marks the 10th anniversary of Jennie’s Telluride Playwright’s Festival. Tickets here.

Yes, I said walls, the stuff of today’s uglier headlines: walls and immigrants in our increasingly Us versus Them world.

Walls? Here in paradise, in Telluride?

Answer: an all-caps YES.

The brilliant (because it is real, raw, gritty, and unblinkingly honest ) play is based on true stories of local Hispanic women who live and work in the Telluride region, told anonymously, (because the women are undocumented) though with no punches pulled to Jennie, who was given access through friends at the San Miguel Resource Center and the school.

Guadelupe, Luciana and Teacher

Guadelupe, Luciana and Teacher

These are stories that can be heard now in every part of America in Hispanic communities, stories of heartache, of sorrow and resilience. Guaranteed you will find the strength of these locals, these women, their drive to succeed and find a better life for themselves and their families, awe-inspiring.

The Hispanic Women’s Project is anything but a retread of daytime soaps featuring confessional housewives. To see it that way would suggest a blinkered viewpoint – and a closed heart. And this play is also not simply a play: The Hispanic Women’s Project is a plea for help. If the Jennie’s words hit home, if Jennie and her cast and crew succeed in opening your eyes (as they did mine at dress rehearsal) then, with heightened awareness of the contributions the Latino community makes in the Telluride region – can you spell service economy – the hope is to honor our neighbors by giving promising young Latinas a chance to experience higher education. (Scroll down to find out how you can help.)

As the writer, once Jennie identified the cross-section of the gut-wrenching stories she knew were out there, once she was granted access to and established trust with woman willing to share, she then placed herself at one cool remove, listened, and wrote. Jennie became the objective observer, the medium through which these remarkable tales come to light. At long last. Amen.

Border Crossing

Border Crossing

If Jennie’s North Star was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but, it became the job of her talented director Yury Urnov (of the world-famous Wooly Mammoth Theatre Company in D.C.) to bring it all home.

Yury, a recent immigrant himself, makes the whole theatrical experience subjective, personal, by adroitly removing any barriers to the gut-punch delivered by the women.

(“The Hispanic Women’s Project” features six main stories and as many as 25 characters who appear from time to time throughout the play.)

Yury does that by removing any and all extraneous details, any distractions – such as props and sets.

Props become symbols that serve to reinforce the plight of each protagonist: a backpack for a woman about to embark on a terrifying journey across the border to what? freedom? Maybe. A toilet cleaner binds two characters together: one obsessed with super germs – oh my god they are everywhere – and the other, or The Other, who has to make them go away. A potato peeler in the hands of a mother trying to peel away the layers of her past life to make a new one for herself and her daughter.

Anna & her Mother

Anna & her Mother

The sets? Genius. Largely stark, simple, but powerful video images, including words – hats off to video designer Julia Hurley – projected on to a screen provide a backdrop to the action and underline the stark contrast between the haves and the have nots in the story – and in real life. Otherwise, only what is absolutely necessary to set the scene.

Ditto, Yury’s blocking and choreography, which was absolutely beautiful and totally effective, but featuring only minimal, essential gestures and expressions.

But to really drive the key point – we are not really separate, only live separately – home, Yury locates the audience smack dab in the middle of the action, replacing the typical auditorium arrangement of Opera House seating with cocktail tables, so his actors are able to splay themselves around the house, around us.

Bye bye walls.

As good as all that is, as compelling, perhaps Yury’s greatest sleight of hand was transforming a cast of mostly green, largely Caucasians actors into a tightly knit sorority of mostly Latinas – and the ones who exploit them, both Hispanic and white. To a person, each actor, many assuming multiple roles, succeeded in shining a light on their unique and painful histories, forcing us all to focus on that which we might not want to see and acknowledge.

With “The Hispanic Women’s Project,” Jennie, Yury, the cast and crew managed to open shuttered windows and let in the light.

It is a light that shines on the Telluride community today – for better or for worse.

Renata & Carla

Renata & Carla

But it also spills beyond our borders into our country’s history.

Let me ask you a question. What are your roots? (And I am not suggesting you are not a natural blonde.) I mean where did your family originally come from? If you are not Native American, you too are an immigrant or the child or grandchild or great grandchild of immigrants. Our family histories also include tales of triumph over adversity, of dreams after much blood, sweat and tears over years.

The stories told in “The Hispanic Women’s Project” are both unique and universal.

But besides reminding us of our roots, how we are all ultimately connected through our stories, Jennie’s play does one other thing: it reminds us why we should be grateful to be living in America and what the American Dream is really all about.

Remember these lyrics? They are from another play about the divide between Latinos and Whites, (or Sharks and Jets). From “America” in “West Side Story”:

I like to be in America!
O.K. by me in America!
Ev’rything free in America
For a small fee in America!…

Automobile in America,
Chromium steel in America,
Wire-spoke wheel in America,
Very big deal in America!…

I like the shores of America!
Comfort is yours in America!
Knobs on the doors in America,
Wall-to-wall floors in America!…

Stronger together

Stronger together

For Anita and friends, America was all about stuff.

Big houses.

Big cars.

Big Macs.

Big deal.

The dreams of the woman in Jennie’s play, however,  have little to do with stuff.

(In sharp contrast to their white boss ladies, who are all entitled, all about stuff. And here may I remind you such depictions are not, ahem, trumped up: “The Hispanic Women’s Project” is, again, based on real-life situations.)

A soft yet strong Rosa (Jannah Hodges) dreams of a better life in America, one where she could have a husband and a children. A little girl. A sweet little girl, who, she would call Lotte, who, at 15, could have a big party “a quinceanera,” like what Rosa herself never had.

A terrified yet resourceful Renata (Molly Wickwire-Sante) dreams of just getting across the border safe and sound:

“We had all gathered our money. We had to give her $4,000. I handed over $900. All together we gave her $4000 for our food. They didn’t charge the children for the food. I guess they thought the parents would share their food with them. Then another man came into the room. He was sweaty and he had a scar down his face. He put out his hand and snapped his fingers. We knew what he wanted. We gave him our money. Half of the cost of the border crossing money. It added up to just under $9,000 for all of us.”

A smart, but rebellious Luciana (Cindy Matamoros) dreams of friends, of assimilation:

“We listen to different music and we eat different food. It was hard to interact with the American kids. They don’t understand, they didn’t want to know me. And the Hispanic kids, the kids that should have been my friends, well; they didn’t want to know me either. Yeah, you could say I was lonely.”

But the Really Big Dream in “The Hispanic Women’s Project,” the one shared by all the undocumented woman who shared with Jennie, the one that brings it all home, pulls the American Dream back to founding father basics: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.



For them, it is all freedom and alienable rights to live and do as you please.

Become the best you can be.

It is not, surprisingly, about a desire to assimilate.

As the play reveals, (also many surveys, including a recent Pew study), Hispanics appear to be divided over how much of a common identity they actually share or want to share with Americans, a point emphasized in the character of Guadalupe (Tanya Karpekina), Luciana’s mother in the play.

The dream really comes down to enhanced opportunities in America.

From Pew: “Fully 87% of Latino adults say the opportunity to get ahead is better in the U.S. than in the country of their ancestors; some 72% say the U.S. is better for raising children than their home country; nearly seven-in-ten (69%) say the poor are treated better in the U.S.; and a plurality of 44% say moral values are better here than in their homelands.”

Anna, who got sanctuary

Anna, who got sanctuary

Which brings me to how you can help.

With support from partners, the Telluride School District, the Just for Kids Foundation, the Telluride Foundation (fund administrator), SPARKy Productions’ ticket and advertising sales of “The Hispanic Women’s Project” all go directly to benefit a scholarship fund designed to support a Latina high-school senior seeking a higher in-state eduction. Donate here.

In addition to purchasing tickets for the show, or donating privately, you can support The SPARKy Latina Scholarship fund by bidding on one of many extraordinary auction items such as:

• 2 Nights for two at Inn of the Ancients with a gourmet dinner at Sutcliffe Vineyards.

• Six rounds of golf, plus dinner. Starting bid for each of above, $500.

• 2 Prime tickets to see an OPERA live at the Met in NYC for 2016-17 Season. Opera of your choice.
Starting bid – $300.

• Dinner for two at one of the best restaurants in the country, the prestigious Stone Barns, Blue Hill restaurant at the old Rockefeller estate in the Hudson Valley. Starting bid, $600.

• A week in Mexico as follows:

Lovely two-bedroom apartment in the exclusive Club Alexandra condominiums on Conchas Chinas Beach in Puerto Vallarta. Ocean view, steps to the beach. This is the perfect spot for a family vacation or a couple’s getaway. Lively downtown Puerto Vallarta is minutes away, or you can enjoy the privacy of sunset margaritas on your own terrace and a swim in the Club’s pool. (donated by Towbin/Barlow Family) Starting bid – $2500.

Final bids accepted Friday, July 29, Patron’s Night.


1 Comment
  • Joanne Steinback
    Posted at 07:36h, 28 July

    Susan, this article was moving and poignant. Thanks for your support of this project.