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SMC playright scores a stage

By CHRISTIN KLOSKI | Wednesday, September 4, 2013

 

As students whiled away their summers at internships and seasonal jobs, sophomore Maria Wesler saw her original play, “Unlocked”, selected for a stage reading at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago on July 29.

Wesler received an email earlier in the month confirming that her play would be featured in the theater’s biennial Latino Theater Festival, but she said it took some time for her to believe that her play had been selected.

“When I checked my email … I screamed at the top of my lungs. I had to reread the congratulations about five times to realize I wasn’t hallucinating, and I still checked the email for the next three days to solidify the reality – my play was chosen,” Wesler said.

Wesle said her play was selected as one of the amateur works chosen to highlight the Latino-American community by staging plays and dramatic readings. 

She said her play calls for the audience to open their imaginations and to find a new perspective through the characters. 

Wesler said the plot revolves around the main character’s family and his involvement in a local gang.

“‘Unlocked’ is the story of Santiago Ramirez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, who feels trapped in his family’s chase for the ‘American dream.’ Stuck on the East Side of Los Angeles, Santiago feels disconnected from his busy family, his first home and America [while] stuck in Boyle Heights, a predominantly Latino community,” said Wesler

“To cope with his loneliness, he joins a gang called Hazard. The play is about the Ramirez family confronting Santiago and trying to persuade him to leave the gang behind.”

Wesler said she consulted Giannina Reyes-Giardiello, a Spanish professor at Saint Mary’s College, when developing the play. Wesler began writing the play after spring break of last year and then submitted it to the Goodman Theatre’s amateur competition. The idea for the play’s theme arose from Wesler’s relationship with a Lithuanian friend who had crossed the Canadian border illegally, Wesler said.

“Not many people think of Lithuanians when they hear the term ‘illegal immigrant,'” Wesler said. “My friend was one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever met. Strong, funny, independent, and so intelligent she was transferred into an academy after her freshmen year. She was going to be a neurosurgeon, that was, until she didn’t get accepted into a single university. It wasn’t because she was unqualified; it was because she was illegal. She told me how she felt trapped, locked inside this American dream that proved more to be a mirage than a future goal.”

Wesler said she had some difficulty relating to her characters because her background was very different than the Latino community she depicts in “Unlocked.”

Wesler grew up in the Chicago suburbs with little exposure to the topic of immigration. She said her father once asked her, “No offense, sweetie, but what does a white girl from the Chicago suburbs know about illegal immigrants?” Wesler said the best part of the festival was sharing the experience with family and friends. 

 “Hearing people laugh at the jokes and seeing my imagination come to life was more than enough, but it was the sight of my friends and family who came to support me that was the icing on the cake,” Wesler said. 

Katie Sullivan, associate professor of theatre, said she is eager to hear about what Wesler will do next. 

 “She is clear that she wants to become a playwright. [She] told us this when she arrived on campus a year ago. It is really exciting that she has achieved such a feather in her cap at this early point in her life as a writer. We need more women playwrights,” Sullivan said.

Theatre professor Susan Baxter said Wesler’s play shows a great deal of talent. 

“Maria is a remarkable person with a lot of passion. She’s already demonstrated focused [and] abundant talent for dramatic writing,” Baxter said.

Wesler said she tries to invite her audience to look at the world through a magnifying glass, and that she intends to write more plays to broaden her audience’s perspectives