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BLACK BUTTERFLY, JAGUAR GIRL, PINATA WOMAN & Other Super Hero Girls, Like Me ~ El Gallo Plaza Theater ~ East L.A.

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East L.A. Rep. at the El Gallo Plaza Theater ~ 4545 E. Cesar Chavez Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90022 ~ through March 25th, Fridays/Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm. Admission $8-$20 - Sliding scale. Info line: (323) 276-1868.

"Can I say that my story is tragic, because some people think I'm a criminal because I came to this country illegally? Or is my story a triumph because I was lucky to have parents who were courageous enough to flee their country (war-torn El Salvador) after receiving death threats?" Cristela Savaria, Director.

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Judging from the spirited new play by East L.A. Rep., the triumph is in the telling. "BLACK BUTTEFLY..." takes a comic book-laced trip into the keen minds and candid hearts of five teenage Super Hero Girls: Raquel, Dolores, Sylvia, Monica & Jasmine. Together they ponder ("Where does the bus finally stop?"), vent ("I hate the way the P.E. coach tries to pretend that our school really cares about being healthy even though they sell Taco Bell and big greasy pizzas during lunch."), question ("How come the only little girls I see on the news are always dead?"), dream ("I can't wait to get older so my bra and panties can match."), and bloom into empowered Sweet Sixteens ("I'm not gonna eat those damn beans!")

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Detail from the set designed by Alex Aranda.

The show mixes poetry ("The Color of Silence"), girl manifestos ("If I get married, I'm going to hit him back. So what if I'm a girl!"), and tragi-comical episodes written by Maria Elena Cervantes, Sandra C. Munoz, and Marisela Norte from their East L.A. childhood memories. Playwright Luis Alfaro, who originated the project, deftly interweaves the teenage adventures with occasional moments of sadness ("Today my father died.") and longing ("Mom, I wrote it all down 'cause I want you to remember.") perfectly calibrated to fit the overall upbeat concoction of raised hormones, raging eyebrows, and sighs you can hear all the way to the ocean.

In the wink of a fake eyelash and a magical hour's time, the feisty cast of five embody "L'Age Ingrat" (the awkward and unforgiving teen years) with equal measures of cheerful indulgence, boy fixation hysterics, and requisite self-righteous angst. The chemistry among cast members, plus a palpable emotional bond that ties each actor to their Super Little Sister characters, convince us that the 20-something actors still "stuff their bras." This charisma and passion is more powerful than the occasional slips into "acting" when some of the otherwise terrific cast fake distracting little girls' voices.

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Standing: Margie Gutierrez (Sylvia) - Ramona Gonzales (Monica) - Raquel Sanchez (Dolores.) Sitting: Blanca Melchor (Jasmine) -Fanny Garcia (Raquel.)

Director Cristela Saravia conceptualized the cartoonish set and takes advantage of every window of comedic opportunity it provides. The girls' comings and goings are choreographed with Broadway musical oomph, thanks due to the comedians' perfect timing and the help of Assistant Director April Ibarra, also cast as Jasmine.

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Natural funnygirl Margie Gutierrez, under the dictatorship of the Red Velvet Coaches (Ramona Gonzales, Raquel Sanchez, Fanny Garcia & April Ibarra.)

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Cristela Savaria, an up-and-coming director to watch.

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"Remembering is all we have in the world." The closing line from "BLACK BUTTERFLY" brought to my mind Ray Bradbury's famous novel "Farenheit 451" depicting a repressive society in which books which encourage critical thinking are banned and the only way to ensure their survival is for the novel's heroes to memorize each book by heart.

You don't have to be born in East L.A. to relate to the Super Hero Girls to enjoy the show. Familes' secrets and lies, unrequited loves and identity crisis are universal. Yet the play is also a tribute to this oft-ignored neighborhood's vibrant street life ("The First Street Store is the mall of East L.A.") and bi-cultural relationships ("Most of my friends at school don't speak Spanish and I don't think they ever watch Channel 34, like we do at my house.") 21st-century North America may not burn novels, but when the entertainment industry fails to represent our cultural diversity, it amounts to a repudiation. Being undocumented adds another layer of illegitimacy to publicly sharing your childhood memories, a simple pleasure most people take for granted.

Thankfully, you can count on the Pinata Women, Jaguar Girls and Black Butterflies to wash the bitterness down with "saladitos and tamarindos from Michi's store" and join in with Monica's final words: "I am going to make people remember me."

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East Los Angeles mural.

Miriam Moses is now playing Dolores.

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The charismatic Miriam Moses last seen in "Documenting the Undocumented."

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