Luis Valdez, the legendary creator of Zoot Suit and Latino theatre pioneer, returns to the Taper with an epic tale of two young lovers from immigrant families who struggle with questions of loyalty to heritage, country and personal desires. Produced by Center Theatre Group in association with Valdez’s El Teatro Campesino, Valley of the Heart (at Mark Taper Forum from Oct. 30 through Dec 9) is a quintessentially California play written by a master of the genre.
Have you always wanted to provide a political commentary in your work?
Well, I’ve had no alternative or choice. My whole life, my experience has been politicized by the culture around me. Valley of the Heart is a distinct case in point because my father took over the farm of a Japanese family when they went to a internment camp. He was asked by the army to grow crops for the armed forces and run the ranch. When the war ended, we were dispossessed and I learned a little more about our situation.
The way our country treated the Japanese angered and frustrated me. I couldn’t understand why it happened. I needed to write Valley of the Heart as a witness to this great injustice. I believe that one of the principal duties of the theatre is to create more human compassion. We tell stories to entertain ourselves but also to understand each other. We’re always in the now, but we also look to the past to try to avoid making the same mistakes.
What was the political environment when you wrote Valley of the Heart in 2012 and how have things changed between now and then?
Injustice tends to creep in on tiny little feet, like weeds in a garden, and before you know it, the garden is choking. I’m very proud to be a Californian, because we live side by side and it forces us to appreciate and understand other cultures.
We need to continue to weed the garden. Every generation has the duty and responsibility to address the injustices in their own backyard.
Why do you think theater is so essential in our modern lives right now?
The theatre is a live flesh-and-blood forum. It’s a communal experience. You respond with the audience to tragedy or comedy. When you get to experience a story that reinforces our universality, it’s a verification of our communal life. Theatre is a creator of community and community is a creator of theatre. It’s a public forum of ideas and sentiments and a place for compassion. You learn best when you’re confronted with living human beings. That is the magic of theatre—the suspension of disbelief brings our minds and hearts to a place we never would have visited.
What do you think makes L.A. such a great theater town?
As a native Californian, I think that the authentic voices of California still need to be developed. Because of the topography of L.A., the city has expanded in every direction, from the sea to the mountains to the valleys. And it’s allowed for a density of human experience that you might not get on the east coast, defined by the creativity of the people who have come along. Valley of the Heart has had a very broad appeal because it speaks to all of us and speaks to the future, which pleases me so much. It’s a love story and at the risk of sounding ridiculous, L.A. is my love story.
Valley of the Heart, Oct. 30-Dec. 9; Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown.