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Two Cultures, One Story

Much of northern Mexico was first settled by conversos.

by Tom Tugend

February 28, 2002 | 7:00 pm

On Dec. 8, 1596, Luis de Carvajal, his mother and three sisters were burned at the stake in an auto de fe in Mexico City after the Holy Office of the Inquisition found them guilty of secretly practicing the Jewish faith.

The de Carvajal family was one of the most prominent in Spain's American colonies. Luis de Carvajal's uncle and namesake had been a Spanish admiral and war hero and had claimed the territory of New Leon in northern Mexico for the Spanish crown.

This segment of richly documented history is more than 400 years old, but its theatrical representation now speaks to the evolution of modern Los Angeles as a vibrant center of both Hispanic and Jewish life and art.

Staged as "In the Name of God/En El Nombre de Dios," the play by the noted Jewish Mexican writer Sabina Berman is presented alternately in Spanish and English by the Grupo de Teatro Sinergia.

Performed by a cast of Latino actors, many originally from Mexico and South America, the English version of the play has many strong moments but suffers from occasionally awkward translations and stretches of melodramatic acting.

However, the play's importance and modern relevance lie in its indictment of intolerance, and director Ruben Amavizca drives home the point by having his inquisitors take off their clerical robes to reveal swastika armbands.

"Few people in the Latino community here know that much of northern Mexico was first settled by conversos, or crypto-Jews," says Amavizca, a dynamic, 42-year-old native of Mexico, who, according to the program notes "is a survivor of over 70 theatrical productions and more than 3,000 performances."

He emphasized that the decision to stage a play on the Inquisition was not taken as a "marketing ploy" to attract Jewish patrons but that he does hope to reach audiences beyond the Latino community.

"In the Name of God" will be performed in English on March 1,2, 14 and 15 at 8 p.m. and March 3 at 6 p.m. at the Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., between Grand View and Park View in downtown Los Angeles. Tickets are $14 (general admission) and $12 (seniors and students). A well-lit, free parking lot adjoins the theater. For information, phone (213) 382-8133 between 1 and 6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.

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