A trio of young Latino musicians is playing on the floor of a rehearsal room in East Los Angeles. A familiar melody fills the tiny room as Natalie Camunas begins to croon the lyrics to Morrissey's 1988 classic “Suedehead.” Backed by Andres Solorzano on acoustic guitar and Cesar Solorzano, not related, on the miniscule, guitarlike charango, this rendition twangs with a more Latin feel.
It's the group's first rehearsal, as it gets ready to perform musical interludes during the forthcoming Teatro MOZ, the world's first Morrissey-themed theater festival and playwriting competition, taking place Nov. 13 at Casa 0101 Theater.
Teatro MOZ, named after the singer's nickname, is inspired by the internationally loved British singer and former frontman of now-defunct '80s group the Smiths. It may seem like quite a specific topic on which to focus an entire festival. But to Morrissey fans, it all makes sense.
Morrissey is a die-hard literature devotee with a particular fondness for Irish playwright Oscar Wilde. The singer solidified his love for Wilde in the Smiths song “Cemetery Gates,” Morrissey's response to critics' claims of plagiarism (Wilde, too, was accused of the same) off the Smiths' 1986 masterpiece, The Queen Is Dead, in which he professes: “Keats and Yeats are on your side, but you lose because weird lover Wilde is on mine.”
“Obviously his music was influenced by a playwright, and now playwrights are being influenced by his music. It's a full circle,” Jaime Mayorquin, a Teatro MOZ producer and contributing playwright, says.
Morrissey is recognized as one of the most literate lyricists of his era, and his songs cover a vast range of topics, including religion, veganism, politics, sexuality and cultural identity. Similarly, the mini, 10-minute plays comprising Teatro MOZ are a reflection of the recurring themes in Morrissey's songs, though with a unique and often Latino twist.
“I Have Forgiven Jesus” tells the story of Betty Ramirez, a feminist college student struggling to come clean to her family about her vegan lifestyle. “Let Me Kiss You” and “My Love Life” focus on coming to terms with homosexuality. And the brilliantly titled “Menudo Is Murder” — a nod to the Smiths' sophomore album, and Morrissey's vegetarianism and animal-rights mantra, Meat Is Murder —retells a drunken night between two amigos.
Most of the pieces are titled after Morrissey songs, and many of his lyrics are worked into the dialogue as witty plays on words. Some plays focus on Moz fan experiences of fandom, death, sex and love. Morrissey is only written into one of the plays, “Sister, I'm A…,” as a cameo character.
Morrissey has throughout Los Angeles an army of second- and third- generation young, American Latino superfans, who feel inspired by his shared cultural duality — the singer was born in England to Irish-Catholic parents. Similarly, these fans feel divided between their native Latin-American countries and present home in America. Not quite Mexican enough for Mexico and not quite assimilated enough for America, they're somewhere in between, with connections to both heritages.
Morrissey explores his split lineage in fan-favorite “Irish Blood, English Heart” from his 2004 solo album You Are the Quarry:
I've been dreaming of a time when
To be English is not to be baneful
To be standing by the flag, not feeling shameful
Racist or partial
The fest fits well with the venue, Boyle Heights' Casa 0101 Theatre, a venue that focuses on Latino themes. It resides on the unofficial theater and arts row of Boyle Heights, off East First Street, which includes community center Corazon Del Pueblo, and the Real Women Have Curves Studio.
For now, Teatro MOZ is a one-night affair, but producing director Michael Patrick Spillers says the dream is to take the event to an annual and national scale, and expand to include poetry, music and dance.
Cleverly invoking Morrissey's wordplay skills in a nod to one of his song titles, Spillers says, “I'm hoping we will have spawned a monster.”
Casa 0101 Theatre, 2102 E 1st St., Boyle Heights. Nov. 13. teatromoz.brownpapertickets.com.
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