Butchlalis de Panochtitlan Dissect Gender Identity in 1980s East L.A. Barber

What was it like for you when you first saw two women kissing? Do you stay in the place where you grew up even if being out is dangerous there? Can you move past discrimination, or will memories of it haunt you? And how much of your butchness is in your haircut?

The Butchlalis de Panochtitlan—Raquel Gutierrez, Mari Garcia, and Claudia Rodriguez--explore these questions and many more in their stage show The Barber of East L.A. I saw a staged reading of the show directed by the legendary Luis Alfaro last night at Cal-State L.A. as part of the larger Joto Caucus supported by the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies.

This witty trio produces consistently capitvating work, their most recent feat no exception. The performers use humor, personal homages, historical anchors, and their monumental moral compasses to challenge and skewer traditional notions of gender conformity. The Butchlalis are uniquely clever in their treatments of somber and complex subjects, rendering deeply thoughtful statements into a provokingly sensuous and unfailingly entertaining medium.

The show’s story revolves around Chonch (played by Gutierrez), a butch lesbian in 1980s East L.A. returning home from barbers’ school to the hostile climate she left behind. Chonch reconnects with the ghosts of her past, some expected and others a surprise, all the while processing loss, harassment, and her own stubborn perseverance. Another protagonist of the show, young Betty (played by Rodriguez), must confront her own identity as bicurious latina punk from a broken home in an area increasingly inhabited by skinheads and cock-rock. The two characters mediate between the extremes of return and escape, love and anger, past and future.

Other notable characters include Martinez the shithead male cop (played by the inimitable Garcia), Betty’s best friend young gay boy Julian (Gutierrez), recurring Butchlali superstar Juana Chingas (Rodriguez), and the ethereal Isabel (Garcia). The three Butchlalis are assisted by a plethora of wigs that also serve as scenery when not in use.

I learned of the Butchlalis at their last show, Dickwhipped!, for which I got tickets on a whim last April at the Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica and could not believe my good fortune. That show was composed of a series of vignettes, most notable in my mind a video about anal submission play and a sketch about the oldest living butch lesbian in East L.A. about to die. I had a friend with me, and we both were starstruck--and super-turned on. In full disclosure I admit I have major problems deciding which Butchlali is the hottest, even though my companion and I debated it for the rest of that evening, and even though I have given it much thought since then.

The Butchlalis will hold their next performance of The Barber of East L.A. November 22, 2008 at MacGowan Hall (MacGowan 1330) at UCLA as part of the Actions of Transfer: Women's Performance in the Americas event presented by The UCLA Center for Performance Studies. The video I am including below shows a staged reading--much like what I saw last night--but I understand the show next month at UCLA will be off-book. I urge you to join me in supporting these radically awesome butch artists; I can guarantee you will enjoy them.

Also, Butchlalis member Raquel Gutierrez performs tonight in her first solo performance piece at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica. Click here for further information.


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