By: Christina E. Rodriguez
“The closest point between two people is a laugh,” says Wendy Mateo while sipping a beer at the Old Town Pub on Chicago’s North Side. It’s a motto she lives by. And given her profession, she brings a lot of people together.
Four years ago, while living in South Florida, Mateo and Lorena Diaz packed up their belongings in a 2001 Toyota RAV-4 and drove straight to Chicago. Why Chicago? They knew Chicago was the Mecca of improvisational comedy. Then during the 2004 Miami Improv Festival, they were encouraged by the Chicago-based teachers and performers who participated in the event to give the Windy City a try. After much deliberation, Mateo and Diaz decided that it was the right thing to do.
The two funny girls met at The Acting Studio in Hollywood, Florida. Then 19-year-old Diaz was working the reception desk at the acting school, while Mateo was an ambitious 24-year-old actress who had moved south from the Bronx as a teenager. Watching a cheery and optimistic Mateo, Diaz remembers thinking, “You’re going to be a star!”
Their exciting life together began when Diaz’s roommate, David, decided to leave right before the rent was due. Mateo was there, ready to take his spot. “She taught me how to be a woman,” says Diaz about Mateo, who grew up with a single mom in a female- dominated household.
From that point on, the two were practically inseparable. Where one went, the other had to go. They first called themselves “Fuacata” but, due to some copyright issues (there was an event with the same name in South Florida), the duo opted to conjoin their two nationalities and adopted the name of Dominizuelan. They also began using the alternative name of “LoriWendy” so that people could find them individually on searches of Dominizuelan. They did improv together, as well as other productions.
In 2004, Diaz was recognized for her role of Mrs. Siezmagraff in Christopher Durang’s “Betty’s Summer Vacation.” She won the Carbonell Award, which recognizes the best theatrical shows and performances in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, for Best Supporting Actress and was featured in the Miami New Times “Best Of” issue.
After that, Diaz realized there was something more out there. “I was hungry for life,” she said. “A community,” added Mateo. Then came that invitation to move to Chicago.
Now, Diaz has a 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Angelina, and Mateo is engaged to be married. Together they have a new act called “Dominizuelan Presents People in the City.” Mateo, the Dominican half, and Diaz, the Venezuelan, play 20 characters, all representing the people that they’ve met during their time in Chicago.
They tell stories about Cubs fans, cleaning ladies in hotels and homeless people on the street. The whole point is to create dialogue. “It’s all relevant and we’re all tied together,” says Diaz. “We all have the same thing that drives us and pushes us.”
Being Latinas has been at the root of their hard work and ambition, especially in a comedy world with very little Latino participation. References to other well-known actresses would emerge during auditions, and that made them work harder to be who they are and to be comfortable in their own skin.
The duo’s Latino culture doesn’t play as vital a role in their show as does their experiences. They’re actors that happen to be Latinas. “We’re not trying to put the fact that we’re [Latinas] all over it,” says Diaz. “We’re [Latina] but we’re also American.”
At the same time, their background has caused some issues. “Can you be more like Tina Fey?” Mateo remembers someone asking her during an audition.
“I’m a brown girl, can I do this like a brown girl?” adds Diaz. “We come in all different shapes, sizes and flavors. We’re done trying to be like these hot girls.”
The two actresses want Latinos to be noticed and acknowledged for who they are as a people and a community. “We want to see our people have the opportunity to do a show,” explains Diaz. “I want [to see] a brown girl up there. We want to see it come to a place where it’s normal to see two Hispanic girls on TV.”
George Lopez, the Mexican American comedian who had his own TV show on ABC until it was cancelled in 2007, has been an inspiration for them. “A voice like his is so important and so relevant right now,” said Diaz.
Junot Diaz, the Dominican author who received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for his book “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” has also been an inspiration. The duo was hesitant to do autobiographical work, but since reading his novel and meeting him, the two have been cultivating their next piece at the Teatro Luna PlayLab, an initiative designed to nurture emerging playwrights.
Their hope is to bridge theater and improv together. “There’s a huge separation of the theater and improv communities,” explained Diaz. “And we’re hoping to push that agenda. It would be f***ing amazing to be the face of this.”
After laughs and beer at the Old Town Pub, the women look back at where they’ve been and what they’ve gone through. “All our life, we’ve had people telling us that we don’t have the balls to make it,” says Diaz with a look of disgust. “You’re too Hispanic, you’re not Hispanic enough, you’re pregnant, you f***ed up.”
“We’ve never had anything handed to us,” explains Mateo. “You have to make your own opportunity. That’s what I’ve learned in Chicago.”