Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Exploring BYU Culture...Again.

The success of the play Así Es by Lyvia Martinez depends on the audiences familiarity with the culture of Brigham Young University. Ideally, the audience would have a "sweet spot" understanding of BYU; either they are familiar but did not personally attend or they're still relatively new to the university.Those too distant or already too immersed in the BYU's culture may not be as appreciative of this play.

The play itself is short and simple. No plot twists or major action scenes. Instead a total of two characters, Javier and Monserrate, speak together during a few different scenes. Monserrate and Javier are cousin who have both moved to the United States to attend BYU discovering the differing in both American culture and Mormon culture. Monserratte moved from Puerto Rico to the US before the play starts and is coaching Javier who has just recently arrived and is slightly disillusioned by the challenging adjustments he must make.

The play successfully captures Javier's feelings of uncertainly and self-consciousness that can be universal to anyone who has found themselves in a new place, surrounded by new customs. And more specifically, this play can really hit home for those who have experienced these feelings of inadequacy or confusion at BYU. Audience members who are experiencing major culture shock will find this play comforting and relateable.

However, because of the particular cultural terms and practices (DTR, singles' wards, pre-mie, etc.) that Javier discusses, the play narrows its audience considerably. First of all, it's of course geared toward a LDS audience because while it explains singles' wards and FHE, it assumes the audience already understands what wards and family home evening are. But the jokes surrounding terms like FHE and DTR at BYU have become cliche for those of us who have been at BYU for awhile. It seems were not afraid to make fun of ourselves here, but we have little creativity in doing so. I've read, watched, listened one to many parodies of these BYU customs, as have many others of my peers. This doesn't mean that this shouldn't be attempted at all, but exploring fresh angles amid the over-done angles would be nice.

On the other hand, if an LDS audience member has no experience with terms like DTR, they aren't explored or explained enough for someone not in on the cliche inside joke. And more thing makes this already ideal audience even smaller--the mixture of Spanish in the play. In many ways, Spanish is the plays strength. It shows other cultural complexities besides merely the new-to-BYU component, and reading the play with the provided translation works well. However, a production of this play may not work as well with a non-Spanish speaking audience who don't realize what the miss and who may imagine missing a lot when Spanish is spoken on stage.

None of these factors in the play are failures in and of themselves. They all work well in their own right, but the mixture makes a challenge for finding the perfect, appreciative audience.


  1. I like how you focus in on the fact that the ideal audience is really small due to the LDS aspect and the Spanish-speaking aspect. It really adds dimensions to not only the play, but to this review. I think someone reading this review definitely gets a great idea of what the play entails and a feel for if they would want to see/read it themselves, which is what I think makes a good review!

  2. I think you're right that we BYU students (and, to a lesser extent, Mormons in general) are very willing to make fun of ourselves but aren't very creative about it. I think part of the reason that's true is because we love our church too much to make an SNL performance out of it. I agree that your review does its job--good work!