Tina D’ Elia has returned to Theatre Rhinoceros in the Castro with her award-winning one-woman “The Rita Hayworth of This Generation.” The one-hour solo performance, written and performed by D’Elia, is an homage to mid-20th-century Hollywood noir and underrepresented queer Latinx culture.
D’ Elia pops in and out of six different characters, including Carmelita Cristina Rivera, a young performer who is ready to premier her show, and Jesus Antonio Gitano, a transgender blackjack king. Along the way, she takes the audience to a production company, a nightclub, a TV studio and a fictional casino where visitors meet dead Hollywood movie stars.
D’ Elia said switching between characters is something she loves, and it takes a lot of practice. In the rehearsal, she sometimes answered other peoples’ questions as one of the characters.
“Some people might be like, ‘what is that actress doing? She’s not answering as Tina,’” said D’ Elia. But Mary Guzmán, the director, who has been working with D’ Elia for decades, knows when D’Elia is in character. “Mary will start laughing because she knows that the character starts talking and we’re on the same page.”
Born and raised in Massachusetts, D’Elia started her career as a performance poet and actress in Boston in 1991. While performing in plays, dialogue and characters came into her mind. She also became a frequent guest at the Theater Offensive, which celebrates art made for and about queer and transgender people of color.
In 1993, when Pamela Sneed, a fellow performance artist and activist, put on a solo show in the theater, D’Elia was struck by the art of solo performances.
“I was sitting in the audience and I’m like, ‘this is what I’m supposed to be doing,’” she said.
D’Elia moved to the Bay Area in 1998 and lived in the Mission for more than 10 years. In 2019, D’Elia premiered her fourth solo show, “Overlooked Latinas,” at Brava theater. That show is six years in the future to the “Rita Hayworth of This Generation,” which premiered in 2010, and they have some shared characters.
In January of this year, D’Elia started to reread the script of “Rita Hayworth,” changed some songs and added a beloved character, Carlo, from “Overlooked Latinas,” to the new version.
D’Elia has been studying Rita Hayworth since the early ’90s. She has long had the idea of writing a solo show about Hayworth. “But I knew that I didn’t just want to portray my version of Rita Hayworth. I often like to tell stories, and I tell stories that are fictional. I draw the characters from aspects of my life, and I like to infuse screwball comedy and film noir,” said D’ Elia.
The show won the Best of Fringe and Best of Sold Out Shows at the 2015 San Francisco Fringe Festival.
D’ Elia had one suggestion for young artists: Find your community.
“It doesn’t feel like you’re alone. And also, you can build the relationships where you trust people and you find the right fit.”
The Rita Hayworth of this Generation is playing at the Theatre Rhinoceros at 4229 18th St. from Thursday to Sunday, April 20 to 23. Thursday’s show is already sold out, but you can buy tickets for the other nights here.