Pulitzer-winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes is best known for writing the book for “In the Heights,” the Tony-winning music set in New York City’s Dominican-American Washington Heights neighborhood. But she actually grew up the daughter of Puerto Rican parents in West Philadelphia. Her rarely produced play “Lulu’s Golden Shoes,” which Flashpoint Theatre Company will present in its Philly premiere beginning this week, is set closer to home in the North Philly barrio.
“In the play,” Hudes describes via email, “I turn North Philly into a fantastical dark comic book where girls and women are under attack at every turn and must share their wisdom with each other through secret means: hair braiding, dreams, a secret society buried underground in Philly’s historic stream network/sewer system. I took some of the injustice in el barrio that I find deeply disturbing — deep poverty, unequal education, violence against women — and personify these social forces in two super villains called The Alchemists. It’s a wild take on my hometown.”
While Hudes was inspired by comic books, she sees the play as a rebellion against the “fetishized women found in most Marvel comic books [who] never had to balance heroism with doing the dishes or puberty’s foibles or breastfeeding in public.”
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Drawing on the alternative comics of writer/illustrators like Lynda Barry and Allison Bechdel, she crafts an alternative superhero story as the sexual coming-of-age of a chubby teenage Latina. Her alter ego, Barrio Grrrl, struggles to overcome her botched attempts at superhero feats.
“This is my disgruntled post-feminist riot-grrrl tour de force where I skewer every stereotype of urban girls and women I can think of,” she says. “I grew up in a matriarchal family full of women who suffered and who were brimming with humanity and divinity and who knew how to party. It’s not a play for the faint of heart!”
Despite her successes, Hudes admits to being nervous about bringing such a raw and deeply felt play to her hometown.
“It’s nerve wracking. I feel quite exposed. It’s my naughtiest, most embarrassing, most unflinching play, and also perhaps the most secretly personal,” she says. “And for those reasons, I said, What the hell — let’s do it.’ I didn’t become a writer to feel comfortable, after all.”
If you go
‘Lulu’s Golden Shoes’
July 15-Aug. 2 (opening night July 18)
Caplan Studio Theater
University of the Arts
211 S. Broad St.