The Aesthetics of Minor Transnationalism in the Theater of Frank Disla

By Stevens, Camilla | Chasqui, November 2016 | Go to article overview

The Aesthetics of Minor Transnationalism in the Theater of Frank Disla


Stevens, Camilla, Chasqui


"Hi ... digo hola ... Hola o Hello, he ahi el dilema ... ?Que es mas importante, vivir la crisis agobiante que despedaza eternamente a mi pueblo o seguir en esta carcel corriendo el riesgo de caer preso? O Hamlet, principe de Dinamarca" (Poncia from Un bufalo de El Paso, Texas 40-41)

In Chicken Cordon Blue (2000), a play by Dominican author Frank Disla, the initial stage directions warn: "el espectador acostumbrado al colorido y oropeles tendra que irse con su musica a otra parte, porque lo que veremos aqui sera la imagen de cuatro emigrantes que nada tiene que ver con The King and I o Cats, triste admitirlo, pero es la verdad cruda como la vida de estos personajes" (30). Likewise, the actor characters in Paradise (2006), a piece by Disla's compatriot Pedro Antonio Valdez, question the commitment of local theatergoers: "El publico de esta ciudad no viene al teatro bajo la lluvia. !Cretinos! como si el agua los fuera a derretir" (13). Despite the absence of an audience, however, the members of the theater troupe in Paradise opt to stay and to hone their craft through improvisation: "?por que no hacemos un juego con la historia de Adan y Eva? Una version libre ... algo improvisado y atrevido" (14). The troupe then imagines an Adam and Eve story of migration to a dubious U.S. "paradise," experimenting in each scene with different genres such as teatro de camara, novela rosa, and film noir. In my view, the search for a new audience, for new stories, and for a new aesthetics in Chicken Cordon Blue and Paradise is emblematic of the dialogue transnational Dominican theater practitioners have begun with the national "script" for Dominican culture and identity. In what follows, I will argue that the insistent formal experimentation in plays about migration by Frank Disla is suggestive of the transnational artist's pursuit of new forms of political and artistic belonging. Not only do Disla's characters explore the ontological condition of belonging to more than one society (or perhaps none), his own dramatic oeuvre occupies an unsure space in literary history as well.

Since the 1990s, Disla, along with other Dominican theater artists, has countered homogenous and territorially bounded visions of Dominican identity through the performance of stories of Dominican transnational migration. This work coincides with a dramatic and rapid increase in migration flows from the island, a phenomenon, maintain social scientists, that has made the Dominican Republic an exemplary site for the analysis of contemporary transnationalism (Itzigsohn et al. 318). (1) Transnationalism, according to one groundbreaking account, is "a process by which migrants, through their daily life activities and social, economic, and political relations, create social fields that cross national boundaries" (Basch et al. 22). The creative practices of transnational Dominican theater artists take place in a network of relationships that simultaneously links them to two nation-states. Similar to the characters in their plays who enact the social scenarios of migration, transnational playwrights and their artistic endeavors shift from one geopolitical space to another. As a result, their work can go unnoticed, since it does not tit easily into either a minority U.S. Latino or a national Dominican theater paradigm. This essay explores the cultural orientations of what Francoise Lionnet and Shu-mei Shih call "minor transnationalism" in the cosmopolitan and creolized aesthetics of Frank Disla's work, its engagement with difference and exclusion, and its challenge to hegemonic notions of citizenship.' By reading Disla's work as an instance of minor transnationalism, I hope to demonstrate that transnational Dominican performance offers an important site for new thinking about how twenty-first century Latin/o American theater artists intervene in a globalized cultural politics that traverses national boundaries.

The cultural work of Dominican theater artists who move between the island and the U. …

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