“What’s with the white boys playing afro-pop?” Elena asks Molly in one of the first few scenes of las mariposas Y los muertos. Elena (Sophie Franco), Molly (Grace Carmack), and Celestina (Jordi Montes) are at FYF, a music festival in downtown Los Angeles. Elena calls out Vampire Weekend as a “hyped-up band with no real substance” as they play the song “Horchata” on stage. Frustrated, the three characters decide to take matters into their own hands and start their own band.
From the start, playwright Benjamin Benne’s newest, directed by Pilar O’Connell, is quick-witted and relevant to today, commenting on representation and power in art. Set in the hipster-filled and rapidly gentrifying Echo Park, LMYLM follows the rise and fall of LA’s hottest new band.
In one telling scene, Elena and Celestina travel to their Nana’s (Anabel V. Hovig) home for Día de los Muertos, bringing Molly, who is white, with them. Nana speaks to her granddaughters and their friend in Spanish, but Molly, having taken a mission trip in Mexico, is the only fluent speaker in the band. Quickly the power dynamics among the three musicians begin to unfold.
As the band, las mariposas, comes together, Molly suggests they all wear Día de los Muertos makeup when they perform, telling her bandmates it will be their “thing” to draw attention and popularity. After a few shows, members of the band’s majority-white audience begin to wear the makeup as well. Shortly after their EP release, a Pitchfork review comes out about the band, calling Elena “exotic.” Elena moves to honor her and her sister’s cultural heritage and nixes the makeup—not without resistance from Molly, whose investment in the popularity of the band, centered on profiting from culture that is not hers, destabilizes the band’s core.
Jordan Gerow’s set is divided into three sections: Nana’s porch, a green-room couch, and a stage at a music venue. Audience members are seated on opposite sides of the set in an alley arrangement. The trio performs on the club stage multiple times, and in certain moments, the transition between action and music is awkward, lacking the natural rhythm of a real club setting.
LMYLM follows Elena as she comes into her voice and finds clarity around being exploited by Molly. Elena’s arc as a character is vast and dexterous, a testament to Benne’s writing as well as Sophie Franco’s acting. “You think being Latina is so cool and exotic,” Elena says to Molly near the end of the play. “We’re being used,” she says to her sister. From FYF to Echo Park, Benne’s LMYLM crafts a creative critique of racism in the hipster art realm, taking the audience on a journey through appreciation to exploitation. The nuances of power flow deep through the networks of our creative communities, and LMYLM brings one nexus of this reality to the stage.
las mariposas Y los muertos. West of Lenin, 203 N. 36th St., westoflenin.com. $15–$60. All ages. Ends Sat., Oct. 7.