Featured as a 2012 Marsh Theater Rising Star, Tina D’Elia’s newest production of solo performance The Rita Hayworth of This Generation at San Francisco’s Garage Theater brings to life the fast-paced race for stardom of Carmelita Cristina Rivera in glittery Las Vegas. With the endurance of a triathlete, D’Elia embodies not just the charming, sometimes discombobulated protagonista, but also her paramour, Jesus Antonio Gitano, the Transgender King of Blackjack hailing from Cali, Columbia; her butch producer, Angel Torres from New York via Puerto Rico; her idol Rita Hayworth; and Kelsey Morph Python, Aussie talk show host for the stars, living and dead. Carmelita sets her sights on getting on Python’s show as a way of catapulting her career, but the host turns out to be her nemesis instead. D’Elia embodies each character with charisma, vitality, quirkiness and credibility, they are not unlike people we may actually know (except for the ghosts!). Their worlds connect and collide, and their interactions weave a surprisingly intricate plot for a one-woman show.
One of the best things about The Rita Hayworth of This Generation is the way in which it reveals a hidden history of some of Hollywood’s best loved starlets. Like everyone, I was well aware of the glamour, charm and talent of Rita Hayworth. What I wasn’t aware of is that her given name was Margarita Carmen Cansino, and that she’s of Spanish decent. Ms. Hayworth also began her career by performing in Mexico. Her life apparently had its own nemesis, the notorious President of Columbia Pictures Harry Cohn. In 1946, Hayworth fought with him vehemently over her publicity (which he controlled completely due to her contract) when an image of her as the ‘bombshell’ from the film Gilda (1946), was used without her consent as propaganda in association with the testing of the first nuclear bomb after World War II at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Rita Hayworth continues to be an inspiration to the many female performers that came after her; and many Latina performers see her a path-forger. This is the experience of D’Elia herself, who first started working as a theatre artist in the fourth grade. According to D’Elia, her initial moment of inspiration came:
“When I was 5 years old and I snuck into the altar of a Catholic church, [while] at a cousin’s baptism next door in the chapel. I knew women/girls did not have roles such as priest at the altar. I was compelled to walk to the stairs to the altar. I looked at the mic attached to the podium. It was very high. I badly wanted to perform [for] an audience I was imagining. I was dramatic! I then danced/faux tap danced on the altar to entertain my imaginary audience. I knew it then that I had something I was to express, share, give, . . . .and connect with people this way.”
While that’s a great debut, after many years of performance from Boston in the 1990’s to the Bay Area, from TV and film to the stage, D’Elia attracts full house audiences like one I had the pleasure of being in on Rita Hayworth’s closing night, no longer imaginary ones.
A favorite of the local LBGT/ Queer community, D’Elia’s work showcases some of the more hilarious aspects of queer culture while engagingly weaving into the narrative her characters’ perspective and experiences on race, gender and class. The effect is organic and authentic. In one particularly amusing moment, Jesus, a frequent guest on Kelsey’s program, goes to visit her at her posh office and admiring its cleanliness says, “Oh, my people do a good job cleaning here!”
The Rita Hayworth of this Generation delivers feisty raciness in equal measure to its laughs. Before catching D’Elia’s show, it would have been difficult for me to imagine how a solo performer could pull off enticingly hot and hilarious sex scenes, but D’Elia finesses this with fun physicality and creativity.
Along with sex, intrigue, a race for stardom, and much thoughtful humor along the way, the piece also employs magical realism— the purgatory of the stars becomes a ritzy club called the Casino for Dead Stars. In the world D’Elia and her characters create, impassioned prayer sometimes earns you a direct line of communication with your deceased idol and a glimpse into the next world as she strives to earn her wings—who wants to spend eternity in a casino? It’s tender and bittersweet watching Carmelita chase down her dreams, offering the audience an opportunity to also catch a glimpse of the real hardships many performers face, especially women of color.
The Rita Hayworth of This Generation concluded its month-long run at the Garage Theater on November 21st. If you missed this great show, don’t fret! D’Elia is working on a Part II now and is planning to perform the original in the East Bay and in Los Angeles in 2014. You can learn about the artist’s upcoming performances and projects here and on her Business Page on Facebook under Tina D’Elia Consulting. Tina D’Elia is a Bay Area performer to watch and watch out for!