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Mateo and Diaz bring ‘American Dream’ to fruition

Wendy Mateo (left)  LorenDiaz perform as more than 20 characters “People City: Bodegas Beisbol   American Dream.”

Wendy Mateo (left) and Lorena Diaz perform as more than 20 characters in “People in the City: Bodegas, Beisbol & the American Dream.” ”

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‘People in the City: Bodegas, Beisbol & the American Dream’

♦ To Oct. 14

♦ Luna Central, 3914 N. Clark

♦ Tickets, $20

♦ (312) 431-1330;

Updated: October 15, 2012 9:34AM

Comedy brought Wendy Mateo and Lorena Diaz to Chicago. Both trained actors, they met in Miami where they were doing theater and dabbling in short form improv. But it wasn’t until the Chicago Improv Festival stopped in Miami that they were exposed to long-from improv.

“That lit a fire in us,” Mateo says. “We saw Chicago improv at its best and knew if we wanted to learn more we needed to get out of South Florida.”

“And Chicago needed Latinas; Miami certainly didn’t,” Diaz adds, laughing. “We wanted to throw ourselves into the improv scene with the intention of marrying theater and improv.”

Mateo and Diaz moved to Chicago in 2005 and easily found a place in the local comedy scene calling themselves Dominizuelan — a combination of their family origins: the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. The move also added two rich new voices to the Latino cultural scene. As TimeOut New York put it: “…think John Leguizamo in female bodies.”

For the past four years, the duo has been developing “People in the City: Bodegas, Beisbol & the American Dream,” a romp through city streets featuring nearly 20 different characters from old Jewish ladies to latchkey kids and Latino men. Workshop versions of the piece have been seen at IO and the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts, but now it’s time for the final act. A fully produced version sponsored by the International Latino Cultural Center is currently on stage at Luna Central.

Mateo says the process has been an evolution: “We are both trained actors and we wanted to improve our comedy skill set and by doing that through improv we found our writing skills and a love of sketch comedy.”

“People in the City” is the culmination of everything the two friends have ever wanted to do with a show. The characters are inspired by their observations (and eavesdropping) of the world around them.

“Years ago we made a commitment to unplug the earbuds and listen to the conversations around us,” Diaz explains. “Our friends know to be careful with what they say; it might end up in the show.”

Two of their favorite characters in the show are the Jewish ladies. Everything they say “has been ripped off from our previous lives as waitresses in Florida,” Mateo says laughing.

“All together, these are the familiar strangers you may see but never have any contact with,” adds Mateo. “We want to open a window into what their lives are like.”

The ebullient Mateo grew up in the Bronx enamored of Broadway. Picture a dark-haired Dominican youngster wowing her stunned family with energetic renditions of Barbra Streisand songs. It’s safe to say the stage has always been her home.

The soft-spoken Diaz, on the other hand, came to performing via another route. “I was very shy and socially awkward around strangers,” Diaz explains. “I used theater to break myself of that, to force myself to get out of my head.”

Together they make a great team. When on stage, “Wendy knows where I’m going at all times,” Diaz says. “She always has my back.”

“Yes, Lorena’s always surprising me and I love that,” Mateo shoots back. “She will always be my favorite person to play with on stage.”

Mateo and Diaz, who are both in their 30s, also have started their own production company — Picaro Media — that focuses on Latino content and talent. They feel so many opportunities have come their way thanks to the move to Chicago, including a “Saturday Night Live” showcase and appearances on Leguizamo’s video website UrbanoTV.

“There is just such an opportunity here to create and produce and put your work out there,” Mateo says. “And there are a lot of eyes on Chicago and that has energized the community. We felt at home as soon as we got here.”

Mary Houlihan is a local free-lance writer.

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