Bed head

An unsung intellectual giant rules from the mattress in Wingspan's sparkling production

Alice in Bed runs through June 20. Call (972) 504-6218.

Marisela Barrera, artistic director of Cara Mia Theatre, is conducting an interview on her cell phone under some very dangerous circumstances: trying to navigate the labyrinthine entrances of D/FW Airport. She's driving to pick up Adelina Anthony, a co-founder of Cara Mia, who's flying in from New York City to catch the world premiere of Ambient Love Rites, the second co-production Cara Mia's done with Soul Rep, the city's only African-American ensemble.

Ambient Love Rites is part of a joint series Cara Mia and Soul Rep have titled "Cafe/Negro" ("Brown/Black") that aims to unite audiences and artists from Dallas' black and Hispanic communities. Some might believe this is socio-political theater of the kind Brecht and Osborne would adore, but Barrera, wary of any propagandistic connotations, shies away from that word.

"I wouldn't call it political theater," she says. "I would call it necessary theater. At this point in Dallas' history, it's important for the black and Latino communities to explore ideas together, and art is a great place to do that."

Directed by Kitchen Dog Theater's Tim Johnson, Ambient Love Rites is a free-form piece by Austin-based theater artist Daniel Alexander Jones of the troupe La Frontera. It examines the way race, gender, and sexuality get bottlenecked on the freeway of common human experience, causing some pretty nasty conflicts. Dallas storyteller nia akimbo stars as an omniscient DJ who narrates the story of a cynical spirit medium tapped to find a missing man in a Rashomon-style "folk ritual" about the subjectivity of relationships.

"At one point, the playwright refers to God as 'That Old Socialist in the Sky,'" says Barrera, who is also the show's assistant director. "It really is about how everyone has a story, and how it's shaped by their race and their sexuality. One of the characters sums it up best in monologue: 'I speak seven languages, eight if I deal in ebonics, but speaking English is the only courtesy I can extend to you at this point.'"

The cast of Ambient Love Rites is half African-American, half Latino, reflecting a down-the-middle split for Cafe/Negro's two-target audience. Cara Mia and Soul Rep's first joint production, for colored girls who've considered suicide, was staged at the African-American Museum in Dallas' largely black South Dallas. Ambient Love Rites is staged outside in the graffiti-festooned courtyard of the Ice House, an arts facility in the middle of Oak Cliff's "Latino Arts Renaissance."

Barrera says that she and Guinea Bennett, artistic director of Soul Rep and a co-star in the current production, conceived the Cafe/Negro project to explore aspects of black-Hispanic relationships more complex than the city government power plays being covered in the Dallas media. Bennett could not be reached for comment.

"All you hear is people arguing about whose turn it is to get what," she says. "There is a real struggle there. But when you get to a neighborhood level, there's also more complicated and varied relationships going on. It's trickle-down hostility."

Barrera's comments couldn't be more timely. On the day of our interview, The Dallas Morning News printed a story about John Ware's resignation and the imminent departure of Sam Lindsay to a federal judgeship. It pitted quotes from Latino and African-American community leaders against each other: Chris Luna's "it's our turn" take on the opening positions and John Wiley Price's "not so fast" parry.

"Those guys are masters at getting attention," she says. "They know how to play the media game. That's an example of how core people in the communities are helping turn this into a numbers game."

Ambient Love Rites runs through June 13. Call (972) 386-9198.

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