By Richard Reyes
Arnold Mercado, a Puerto Rican from New York, brought his love of theater to Houston and founded what is now known as Talento Bilingüe de Houston (TBH). His first choice for the name of this new Latino Theater was “Teatro Español de Houston.” With a Community Engagement and Touring Artists (CETA) government grant, he employed around a dozen young Latino actors from across the state of Texas. According to Mercado, a government site visitor questioned the name because even in 1977 controversy surrounded whether or not the U.S. government should fund “Teatro Español,” which would produce contemporary and classic Spanish plays. Without skipping a beat, Mercado immediately changed the name to “Teatro Bilingüe de Houston” and proclaimed it would produce bilingual plays not yet sure if that meant productions would be performed in English some days and in Spanish on other days, or if the whole play would be performed in Spanglish.
One of TBH’s early plays and very successful productions was John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, in which the migrant farmworkers spoke Spanish and the local farmers and townspeople spoke English. Other early Spanish classic productions included Federico Garcia Lorca’s, La Casa de Bernarda Alba and El Lugar Donde Mueren Los Mamiferos by Jorge Díaz. TBH performed both productions totally in Spanish.