Actress/professor to direct award-winning Mexican play at UC Santa Cruz

Between Pancho Villa and a Naked Woman, a play by one of Mexico's most vital modern playwrights, has been a huge success story for Mexican theater. Its premiere production earned seven awards from the Mexican Critics Association in 1994, including Best New Play of the Year, and the show was eventually made into an award-winning film.

Stage, screen, and television actress Alma Martinez, who joined the UCSC theater arts faculty in 2001 as an assistant professor, will direct this witty, provocative, and highly acclaimed work for a two-week run at the campus Mainstage Theater, February 20 through March 2.

"It's a contemporary, romantic, feminist comedy," Martinez observed. "The play is about gender issues and very Mexican. The reason I chose it was that it offers a different approach to understanding gender roles and feminist issues in Mexican culture."

The play centers around the relationship between Gina, a single widow with a son in college, and Alberto, a college professor who sees himself as a liberal, democratic activist. However, Alberto's politics are not represented in his personal life. In his relationship with Gina, he is sexist, self-centered, and not at all democratic.

"Gina is madly in lust with Alberto," explained Martinez. "She thinks she's in love, but the relationship is based purely on sex. As the play opens, Gina begins to want more from the relationship.things like marriage and children. But Alberto wants to keep the relationship as it is. He prefers to come and go as he pleases."

Alberto has been married twice and has four children. He is also a historian who is totally obsessed with Pancho Villa-he's writing a biography of the revolutionary hero who courageously fought for the working class. Scenes of Gina and Alberto's Mexico City relationship in 1998 overlap with scenes from Pancho Villa's revolutionary days in 1910, which are recalled as Gina types pages of Alberto's historical book.

"Pancho Villa had five wives and numerous children," Martinez noted. "Alberto is trying to emulate his politics but he also ends up emulating his personal relations with women.

"It's an allegory for the bigger issue of corruption in the Mexican government which is patriarchal, sexist, and not democratic," Martinez added. "The playwright equates democracy with femininity. Both women and men admire Pancho Villa because their lives are shaped by the history of their country. But according to the playwright, we have to look deeper and see what it really represents-the domination of women by this patriarchal system."

A professional actress for 25 years, Martinez was discovered by renowned writer/director Luis Valdez who cast her as the romantic lead in his Los Angeles hit play, Zoot Suit. She has appeared in a number of feature films including Under Fire opposite Gene Hackman and Nick Nolte, Barbarosa with Willie Nelson and Gary Busey; Zoot Suit with Edward James Olmos, and Cheech Marin's Born in East L.A.

On the stage, Martinez has performed with Academy Award-winner Dianne Wiest in In the Summer House at Lincoln Center and with Tony award-winning actress Nell Carter in Hello Dolly at the Long Beach Civic Light Opera. She recently appeared in the world premiere of Luis Valdez's Mummified Deer at the San Diego Repertory Theatre where she received a BackStage "Garland" Award for her performance.

Martinez's television career includes guest-star appearances on Nash Bridges, The Twilight Zone directed by Wes Craven, and General Hospital. She also costarred in several movies for television, working with Alec Baldwin, Bruce Dern, John Lithgow, Kate Jackson, and James Woods.

When she completes her doctorate, Martinez will hold the distinction of being the first Latina to graduate from the Stanford Drama Department in its 50-year history and only the second Chicana in the country to hold a Ph.D. in drama. She said she enjoys working in all forms of entertainment, but prefers theater the most.

"They say that theater is for the actor, film is for the director, and television is for the producer," she explained. "In film, the director calls the shots, in television, the producer pushes the buttons and edits. But theater is where the actors have the most freedom-it's more of an actor's medium. But it's always fun to do the others."

Now in her second year of teaching at UCSC, Martinez said she hopes to eventually offer courses in Chicano and Latin American popular political theater.

"As a theater arts professor, you stay connected and working," she said. "And I'm using the experience I have to get students excited about theater and working in the arts.

"Of utmost importance to me is pursuing diversity, but the best way to achieve this, from my perspective, is to expose our community to Chicano and Latino theater," she added.

"After all, by 2010, Chicanos and Latinos will be the majority population in the state of California."

Tickets for the play are available from the UCSC Ticket Office, (831) 459-2159.