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Originally published Friday, November 30, 2012 at 5:00 AM

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Latino spin on classic in eSe Teatro’s ‘Oedipus el Rey’

The Seattle Latino theater company eSe Teatro makes its mainstage debut at ACT Theatre, with “Oedipus el Rey.”

Seattle Times theater critic

THEATER PREVIEW

‘Oedipus el Rey’

By Luis Alfaro. Thursday-Dec. 16. An eSe Teatro production at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle. $15-$20 (206-292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org)

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Several years ago, Seattle actor, director and writer Rose Cano started contacting fellow Latino stage folk in the area. An energetic artist and community arts activist, Cano gauged their interest and solicited their help in forming a new theater troupe.

Now, after joining forces to offer play readings at partnering ACT Theatre and at community facilities, the new company eSe Teatro will unveil its first full-scale production at ACT: award-winning California playwright Luis Alfaro’s poetic urban drama, “Oedipus el Rey.”

For Cano, this endeavor meant taking to the next level her dream of a local troupe that airs socially relevant works written and performed by artists of Latin heritage — a mission not charted by an ongoing Seattle troupe since the early days of the long-defunct Group Theatre.

“The idea is to have an artistic voice, a decision-making say, in what we talk about in our communities,” Cano explains, “rather than wait for the one [Latino] show a year done by Seattle Rep or another big theater in town.”

While Mexican Americans are the most prominent and largest sector of the U.S. Latino population, eSe Teatro stresses Latino diversity.

Those involved in “Oedipus el Rey” represent what Cano calls a “rainbow of brown.” Cano is Peruvian, as is the well-established, New York-based director of “Oedipus el Rey,” Gisele Cardenas. The cast includes members of Cuban, Dominican and Mexican heritage.

“Some of us are very fluent in Spanish, some have no Spanish,” notes Cano. “We’re immigrants, first- and second-generation-born Americans. I like that diversity, because that’s our reality.”

Carter Rodriquez, who plays the blind character Tiresias in the show, is from New Mexico and never learned Spanish at home.

He has performed with Seattle Shakespeare Company, Book-It, Cafe Nordo, often cast as an “ethnically ambiguous thug — with a Russian, Italian or Middle Eastern accent,” he says. Working with other Latino artists who are “creating a space and a home for our voices, is pretty fantastic for me.”

“Oedipus el Rey” hits culturally specific and universal themes. Transplanting the core story of Oedipus (as dramatized by the ancient playwright Sophocles) into the heart of a South Central L.A. barrio, it chronicles a young man who was raised by someone he believed was his father. After doing prison time for gang activity, he unknowingly kills his real father, and falls in love with his biological mother.

“I mostly direct classical works by Shakespeare, the Greeks,” says Cardenas. “I’m doing this because it is a real tragedy that asks the same big questions: What is fate? What is destiny? Can you ever escape your environment and make your own destiny?”

Such concerns are immediate and meaningful to Cano, who works as a medical interpreter at Harborview Hospital, and for Rodriquez, who teaches acting and writing to troubled youths as part of the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative.

“The connection between art and society is important to many of us in eSe,” says Cano. It is also reflected in another eSe project: Cano’s play “Don Quixote and Sancho Panza: Homeless in Seattle,” which has been touring to local homeless shelters.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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