Teatro Dallas Presents Texas Premiere of "The Merit System" by Edwin Sanchez
Updated: Oct 26, 2021
By Cristee Cook
Soon, Dallas theatre audiences will have the opportunity to experience the Texas premiere of Edwin Sanchez’s The Merit System, presented by Teatro Dallas and directed by Claudia Acosta.
The Merit System is a story based in 1977 New York, and carries themes of assimilation, class, and friendship. The play questions what it means to be successful and prosperous in America, through the comedic lens of an unlikely friendship between two people who are originally from the island of Puerto Rico.
Teatro Dallas Executive Artistic Director Sara Cardona said the company chose Sanchez’s play for several reasons. First, Teatro Dallas is committed to producing the work of living playwrights. Also, the company wanted to offer a more lighthearted perspective on contemporary themes. She said: “I felt that last year we tackled a lot of serious subject matter. And I noticed that everybody was doing that because we were in the midst of a pandemic and protests movements, and just everything that was going on. And I realized that it’s been a while since we’ve done a comedic piece, something that has a message but that is also gentle and has kindness at its heart and has some levity.”
Acosta first worked with the play in New York when she was a collective member of the national Latino theater initiative, The Sol Project. At the Sol Project, she was the producer of staged readings and workshops, and had the opportunity to work closely on the play and with the playwright. Now that the project is being fully realized with Teatro Dallas, Acosta said the themes of the play are even more relevant: “We tend to forget, or people sometimes have to be reminded, that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. This is not a story about immigration. It’s a story about assimilation. So, through the audience’s experience of their migration, they might be able to connect to what it is to assimilate and the harm and consequences of centering whiteness on a pedestal to be able to achieve acceptance, and to achieve belonging.”
Acosta was also inspired by the relevance between 1977 New York and our current political/socioeconomic climate. In the mid-70s, New York experienced 2 blackouts, we learned about the serial killer “Son of Sam,” Feminism was on the rise, and the Unionization of factory workers was intensely underway. Acosta said this important history helped her frame the play. She shared, “I was able to find within the play a moment where a major event does shift protagonists into making different choices in a way that I felt was like the pandemic. We needed to put 1977 in its frame. You know, a major event that put us in a position where we had to rely on each other to survive certain challenges emotionally and physically. And events that changes you and forces you to make new decisions for your life. And I found that connection to be really resonant with what we’ve survived with this pandemic.”
Even with some heavy themes in the play, Acosta said she’s excited to direct the play with heart and humor: “I love the piece. I love the simplicity of it. The humor and light in the play is refreshing. I want to embrace that and I want to embrace the love of these characters.”
In addition to offering the Texas debut of Sanchez’ work to Dallas audiences, Teatro Dallas will present The Merit System in the brand-new black box performance space at the Latino Cultural Center. In a capital campaign together with Cara Mia Theatre and the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture, Teatro Dallas is raising the money for a permanent performance space which will be shared with Cara Mia and will also be available for community use.
The Merit System will be the second production in the Latino Cultural Center’s black box theatre. The inaugural production was Cara Mia’s Your Healing Is Killing Me by Virginia Grise, which they presented in September and October 2021.
Cardona said there are both challenges and opportunities to using the transitional space. The grand opening is slated for March 2022, and due to the pandemic, some supplies have been delayed. Still, she said, “This will be Teatro Dallas’ first production in the space. So, it’s exciting for us, just in terms of the company’s history, to have gotten to a place where we finally have a stable home. And, I feel very proud that we are able to work together to leverage something that benefits the whole community.”
The Merit System by Edwin Sanchez runs October 29th -November 13th at The Latino Cultural Center in the Black Box Theatre: 2800 Live Oak Street. This is an indoor production with limited capacity. Masks are required. Tickets are available at https://teatrodallas.org/productions/.
*Article updated October 26, 2021. A quote from Claudia Acosta was modified for clarity and intention.