"It's a serious subject, and people tend to put it in this sort of serious shelf," says Rodrigo Duarte Clark. "But life doesn't stop being humorous just because people are dying. There's a lot of humor in the play. You don't want to immerse people so much in their emotions that they can't think about the issue itself."
Clark is a playwright in residence and artistic director at San Francisco's El Teatro de la Esperanza--The Theatre of Hope--which performed the traditional holiday show La Pastorela in Guadalupe last December. The serious subject to which he's referring is AIDS, and the play to which he's referring is his and the company's new work, Don't Leave Me Baby. Prior to a May production in Minneapolis and a fall production in Austin, it's coming to the Valley this Thursday for a single performance at Gammage Auditorium. Like La Pastorela, the project is jointly presented by two programs sponsored by ASU Public Events: the "South No Borders" Latino performance series, and the "Untold Stories" series.
Clark's play is appropriate to both--it concerns a very untold story of AIDS in the heterosexual Latino community. The plot concerns a married Chicano with two children who discovers that both he and his wife are infected with the disease. The wife dies soon after, and her ghost returns from a rather bureaucratic afterlife to coach her husband through the obsessive guilt and rage that are hounding him. He's become fixated on establishing that it was his wife who gave him the virus, and not the other way around (both scenarios are plausible).
"One of the things I wanted to do was to focus on heterosexuals and Latinos--to draw attention to that side of the issue," says Clark. "The other was to explore the psychological side of it. For instance, when the man learns he has AIDS, his first reaction is, 'I'm no faggot.' That was purposely put in there because with a lot of heterosexual males, especially in the Latino community, AIDS is thought of that way."
Like many of the 17 or so other plays that Clark has written or co-written, Don't Leave Me Baby draws heavily on real life. In this case, it was inspired by an actual family of Clark's acquaintance that was afflicted in this way. "This is a story that actually happened. I changed it, partly because it was uncomfortable--there were too many people who knew who I was writing about."
Some of the episodes are based on stories that Clark was told at the time. "The woman who was dying had an obsession with shopping--she wanted to buy presents for the children, to kind of leave a last present, and she was eating up the credit cards. But I was told that even though the stores were crowded, it wasn't difficult." The woman was so visibly ill that people cleared a path for her in the stores. "It's the only advantage there was to having the disease," he jokes grimly.
Clark and other playwrights at El Teatro de la Esperanza have been putting Latino issues onstage since the '70s--some of the works that have debuted there include La Victima, a drama about immigration; and Real Women Have Curves, a comedy about body-size issues among Latina women, which recently had a Valley run.
On April 10, ASU is to host another of Clark's la Esperanza plays, Rosita's Jalapeno Kitchen, starring Ruby Nelda Perez. Clark describes the piece as a one-woman show about the impact of redevelopment on Latino communities, in which the title character talks about her ambivalence over selling her restaurant to a shopping-mall developer. "She's telling it to you the customer, who just walked in out of nowhere."
--M. V. Moorhead
El Teatro de la Esperanza's production of Don't Leave Me Baby is scheduled to be performed at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 25, at Gammage Auditorium, Mill and Apache in Tempe. Tickets are $9. The play is not recommended for children. 965-3434 (Gammage), 503-5555 (Dillard's).