Review: "Tia Talk" Dances, Karaokes, and, Yes, Talks Its Way Through Issues of Identity

Tia Talk

Created and performed by Amelia Bethel and Karen Loewy Movilla

Presented by The Tank

312 W 36th St., Manhattan, NYC

August 5-27, 2023

Amelia Bethel and Karen Loewy Movilla
The set of Tia Talk evokes any number of chat show sets, with its chairs and mugs paired around a small table and thrown into relief against a shimmering backdrop; but that show that transpires there is far from your typical daytime TV fare. Tia Talk the play presents us with Amelia (Amelia Bethel) and Karen (Karen Loewy Movilla) as the presenters of Tia Talk their new talk show, which they intend as a bit of gossipy fun but which keeps taking unanticipated detours related to Latiné identity, history, and culture (so far as those are separable categories to any degree). The inevitability of the irruption of these topics into whatever Amelia and Karen discuss seems in itself meaningful, but it certainly does not make Tia Talk any less funny and convivial.

The play begins with Amelia and Karen centering a very simple, very complex question: Who are you? One aspirational answer that they give is that, as the hosts of Tia Talk, they want to be everyone's cool tías (which translates literally to "aunts"). But as Amelia responds to a complaint from Karen by pointing to Amelia's own half-white, half-Salvadoran heritage and Colombian Karen's marriage to a white man, the added complexities immediately begin to emerge. Tia Talk moves through different titled segments, functioning like chapters, with sharing of personal experiences from navigating the TSA to living with competing and self-contradictory sets of culturally determined expectations for women's bodies interpenetrating with and (thereby) linked to sociocultural topics from the ramifications of Bad Bunny's dating a Jenner to the epidemic of femicide in Latin America. An audience-involved segment on fashion intersects with commentary on colorism and historical migrations, while another audience-involved segment, on astrology, produced at least one cathartic moment of an audience member, who shared more than being a Libra with Amelia, clearly feeling "seen." To take another example, a segment revealing what popular Google searches say about perceptions of El Salvador and Colombia is a lot like something that one would see on an actual talk show, except that its humor has both a sociopolitical point to make and some teeth with which to make it.

The show's ending returns to its opening question, and both of these, as well as other moments, take place outside the flow of the play's diegetic reality, a change signaled–or indeed seemingly demanded, based on a significantly different reaction by the performers near the end–by a ding that initiates a kind of frozen aside-time or, in one instance, a deconstructed stretch of the "Macarena" that is visually and aurally striking. This recurring device works effectively and engagingly to introduce additional, internal perspectives on Karen and Amelia's exchanges. Co-creators Bethel and Loewy Movilla inhabit these personae with, nonrealistic moments aside, an easygoing naturalism that helps to further blur the lines between fiction and reality and complements Amelia and Karen's mix of empathy and exuberance with justified anger and uncertainty. The very title of Tia Talk points to the vital amplification of Latiné voices, and the show itself further highlights the simultaneous importance of resistance to flattening Latiné into a monolith. Probing, wide-ranging, and enjoyable, Tia Talk creates a conversation that everyone should take part in.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


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