Seven years ago, when Wendy Mateo and Lorena Díaz heard that Chicago’s improv scene was looking for more diversity, they just packed up their bags in a Rav4 and moved from Miami to “the Windy City.” They say they wanted to bridge improv comedy and theatre there, just like their role model, John Leguizamo, did on off-Broadway and Broadway.
The duo, the members of which call each other “vibrant” and “tenacious,” has been doing improv and producing shows for the past 11 years. They are now known as one name: “Dominizuelan.” After dozens of performances nationwide, Mateo and Díaz will be presenting the latest version of their critically acclaimed play, “Dominizuelan Presents People in the City” opening on September 13th at Luna Central in Chicago.
“There are 20 characters in the show, and Wendy and I split them in half,” says Díaz, the 5 foot 10 inch Venezuelan. “I take on a hair more of the male roles, probably because of our dramatic height difference…and based on our experiences.”
The new scenes involve a character with cerebral palsy (played by Díaz) who stands up against government cuts to social services programs, while the second scene tackles the issue of gun control.
“Wendy’s from New York — born and raised in the Bronx,” says Díaz. “I was born in Venezuela and immigrated here at age 5. We met in Miami.”
She goes on to explain that they met in their early 20’s when Mateo started acting at the Miami Acting Studio, and she was her first improv teacher.
“We really got along doing spoken word and started producing shows together with other artists, and then we slowly started writing material,” says Díaz.
Shortly after is when they had the mutual thought to go to Chicago.
“I was always interested in the performing arts…I thought I was a very serious actress, but I just loved improv and everything started making sense, so I knew…,” says the 5 foot 2 inch Mateo.
Díaz finishes her sentence.
“I originally used theater to get over social anxiety, so like Wendy I thought I was a serious theater actress, but I found comedy…,” she says. “I think any actor should have a good solid foundation in comedy, because it really brought everything together for me.”
They say what inspired them to write “Dominizuelan Presents People in the City” was exactly what the title says, “People in the City.”
“We noticed a lot of interesting things that were true to Chicago, but they were also very universal,” says Mateo. “We all sort of experienced the same things. A lot of what we related to about Chicago, we related to our own upbringing.”
Díaz says they would listen to real-life conversations happening around them and bring them to the stage.
“We’ve been workshopping the show for about four years,” she says. “There’s things that have been taken out, massaged, worked on…We use the audience as critics. It’s kind of a city effort.”
They also gush and giggle like young school girls when adding that Junot Díaz was also a huge inspiration when writing.
“The way he wrote ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ with no abandon to the language — from English to Spanish — I respected that,” says Mateo. “We were struggling with that, because a lot of our lives happen in Spanglish, and he taught us not to be afraid of that.”
Díaz, the tall Venezuelan part of the duo, chimes in.
“Wendy had asked him, ‘How did you get away with telling about our culture without offending people?’ He replied, ‘Anybody that gets in the way of you creating, should be cut out of your life.’ He gave us that permission. We are speaking the truth.”
She says this is important because she thinks we’re still very behind in integration and accepting the cultural diversity of our country.
“I would love it if the play stayed with the audience,” says Díaz, who is still sometimes asked if she speaks Mexican. “These characters…are humans, people who you can interact with…All of our stories are the same…No matter what, you can relate to the single mom working and raising her kids, and the guy hanging outside of the bodega…We are all way more interconnected than we allow ourselves to believe.”
They’ve taken what they know about theater and comedy and started their own production house, called Picaro Media, which focuses on creating authentic content for the new generation of Latinos.
“We want to bring this to television,” says Díaz about their next step. “We want Latinos to turn on the TV and see themselves.”