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Play Inspires Human Rights Panel Discussion at La Mama Theater

By Serena Solomon | September 27, 2012 11:40am

EAST VILLAGE — "LUZ," which opens at East Fourth Street's La Mama Theater on Friday, is more than just a play. 

While the story itself shines a light on female asylum seekers from Guatemala and Haiti as they fight to safely remain in the U.S., the show continues after the final curtain with a panel discussion involving human rights lawyers and advocates.

"One thing I have notice is that some of these topics are very complex and I think depressing, lets be honest," said playwright Catherine Filloux, who has been writing plays centered on human rights for about 20 years. "People sometimes feel overwhelmed so it helps to know that one is going to experience a play and then also have the people to learn from and get different angles."

Six of the LUZ performances, which run until Oct. 14, will give the audience the option of a discussion on human rights abuses committed against women, attracting panelists such as Jayne E. Fleming who identifies pro bono opportunities for mega law firm Reed Smith, and Matthew Kennis, the Guatemala specialist for Amnesty International U.S.A.

Over the years, Filloux has often included the panel element in her work, with plays touching on incidences such as the genocide in Cambodia and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"The thing about a play is that everybody comes to a play and sees something very different or slightly different, but never the same," Filloux said.

"For people to stay there and be excited and want to be in a dialog, that is the point," said the plays award-winning director, Jose Zayas.

He said he was drawn to the play for its focus on "outsiders, people on the fringe, voices that are not heard, that are not represented."

As for the character Luz, played by Julissa Roman, she survives repetitive rape by members her country's military. Then, after living in a Guatemala City rubbish dump, she must endure the red tape of U.S. immigration law.

By her side is human rights lawyer Alexandra, played by Kimber Riddle, a character that is inspired by a real-life human rights lawyer Filloux knows.

"Through the previous work I have done, I have come to meet a lot of people in the human rights world," she said, declining to reveal the woman's identity due to the sensitivity of her legal work.

The play also sweeps through the Haiti earthquake aftermath, where Alexandra also has female clients who survived rape.

Luz finds another source of strength in her vulture guardian angel, or nagual in Spanish, which comes to life through puppeteers and appears in Luz's imagination in numerous scenes.

"What you always have to think about is that these people survived," said Zayas, of how he finds hope in the story of Luz and the other female characters in the play. "It is not enough to talk about the atrocity, you have to deal with the psychology of a survivor."

LUZ runs at La Mama Theater, 74A East 4th Street, from Sept. 28 to Oct. 14