Directed by Sandra Marquez
Produced by Pride Films and Plays
A Campy Chronicle of Gay Latinos in Recent Years
The recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the country is a massive victory for activists who have struggled their whole lives so LGBT people can have justice. At this historic moment, Pride Films and Plays is looking back to 1994, when Chilean-American Guillermo Reyes’s one-man show Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown premiered. Though Reyes has made some updates to his script since then, the officially licensed version used in Sandra Marquez’s production is from the nineties, which provides the piece now with an attitude of reflection. It’s a fun, cute show that celebrates the tenacity of gay Latinos, and since it begins with projections by Patrick Iven of 90s video clips, is clearly contextualized within a historic arc.
Nelson Rodriguez is the Man on the Verge, and he has nine monologues split between seven characters. The first, and one who reappears twice more, is Federico, an illegal immigrant from a war-torn country who has come to experience the openly gay lifestyle in the United States. Rodriguez plays him as sunny, adoring, and not at all bothered by the fact that his first day in Los Angeles was during the 1992 riots. Actually, after all the men who paid him for sex in his home country broke their promises to take him in if he ever came to the US, it was nice to have alternative way of acquiring luxury goods, until a mob burned his freshly stolen furniture and dildo. But, he writes to his mother, he’s not deterred, and will work his way up until he can buy a man of his own.
Not all of the other characters are as nice, although Rodriguez plays most of them as overtly silly, but with a gritty undertone. They also come from all over Latin America. There’s Vinnie, the Colombian who is too old to continue on as a rentboy, and can’t go home because he burned too many bridges . . . literally. Paco, one of the show’s most admirable characters, is a Cuban who was condemned to a concentration camp by Castro, and upon arrival in Miami, was loaned money by his father to start a restaurant, on condition that he do it far enough away so that none of their acquaintances would learn where he’d been. We meet an English teacher who married a woman and despises his more recently immigrated students, and a movie actor who passed as Anglo only to win a Latino role, and is worried about being accused of “stealing” a role from Latinos. There is a drag queen dying of AIDS who remains defiant and as graceful as she can manage in the face of betrayal and oppression, and the psychotic son of a Chilean torturer whose cruelty and repression twisted his entire life. As each, Rodriguez is energetic, nimble, and distinctive, with hilarity and pathos deployed appropriately, and often at the same time.
Maybe Sandra Marquez chose to make this a more light-hearted production than it could have been, or Reyes preferred a campy aesthetic, but Rodriguez’s comic talent makes his characters so likable, their struggles are all the more sympathetic. Though the specifics of most of the issues raised are dated, the spirit remains relevant. Reyes defines “His-panic breakdown” as transcultural shock, and finds amusement in taking the resulting absurdities to extremes. He doesn’t directly advocate here for much in particular, but he does expose tensions and hypocrisies, including on the part of the United States in its foreign relations. Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown is a fun evening of theatre, and celebrates progress while pushing us on to the next struggles.
Reviewed June 26, 2015
This play has been Jeff recommended.
For more information, see Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown’s page on Theatre in Chicago.
Playing at the Apollo Studio Theater, 2540 N Lincoln. Tickets are $20-25; to order, call 773-935-6100 or visit pridefilmsandplays.com. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 6:00 pm through July 26. No performance July 4. Running time is eighty minutes with no intermission.