Man on the Verge

Celebrated ASU playwright Guillermo Reyes -- who's Latino and gay -- gives thundering voice to the marginalized

Still, no matter how voluble his characters are, some of the "Latin-American self-denial" still exists in Reyes. He can go on for hours about the vagaries of the theater, but ask him about his own relationships and he gets flustered.

"I don't like to talk too much about being gay," Reyes says. "I don't need to overexpress myself. It doesn't leave room for the inevitable ambiguities of life."

He does confide that he had a relationship with a man from Tijuana recently, but the border got in the way. Literally.

Reyes with the cast of Deporting the Divas.
Angela Jimenez
Reyes with the cast of Deporting the Divas.
"By now I've learned not to think about the writing process," Reyes says. "Sometimes I will write an entire act in one night and then leave it alone for six months."
Paolo Vescia
"By now I've learned not to think about the writing process," Reyes says. "Sometimes I will write an entire act in one night and then leave it alone for six months."

"When I went down there and crossed back, I was given a hard time by the Border Patrol. Teenagers would go down there and get drunk and they let them go without checking their papers. They pounced on me. They're not the kind of people who say, 'Excuse me, sir, can I see your papers?' They're assholes. I think they're trained to be assholes."

Reyes attributes his introversion to his footholds in contradictory worlds. He says he would rather play the part of the mysterious playwright than that of a spotlight grabber like Ricky Martin. Anonymity is precious.

"I learned to tune people out. It's a part of being a little crazy, and it's a defense mechanism to go into yourself. I got a little turned off by people as a kid."

And he remains a bit turned off -- and tuned out. In a group setting, Reyes might sit quietly for an hour, leading you to believe he's a good listener. Then he utters a non sequitur, some comment about a future theater production that has nothing to do with the conversation at hand. He's been in his own world and hasn't heard a word.

Friends describe him as friendly, but reserved and inscrutable.

One friend recounts watching the Phoenix performance of Divaswith Reyes, who slumped in his seat and took notes. The audience was enthralled, laughing, and Reyes was complaining about details. An actor emphasized the wrong word. The lighting was not right in one scene.

Reyes is a perfectionist, obsessed with his work. But the wild characters that exist in his imagination and come to life in his plays are not manifest in his personality.

"People who know me go to my plays and say it's hard to believe I wrote that," Reyes says.

"I expend a lot of energy on my writing. I don't have much left over to be the life of the party."

Reyes, whose literary influences include Oscar Wilde, William Shakespeare and Manuel Puig, says his own writing process is erratic.

"I don't do the eight-hour-a-day thing," he says. "I write in spurts and sometimes I write on napkins.

"By now I've learned not to think about the writing process. Sometimes I will write an entire act in one night and then leave it alone for six months."

Not all of his texts invoke gay issues, but almost all focus on some aspect of Latino experiences.

"I've written non-gay plays, and one non-Latino play I can think of. But non-gay non-Latino plays? Probably not. You need to write what's close to you, obviously. Also, I'm not sure theater needs another play about a middle-class white family when so many other writers out there are doing that."

Reyes may spend a lot of time inside his own head, but that doesn't mean he's out of touch with reality. There is an audience whose real lives very much echo the issues Reyes evokes; an audience whose members, as the INS agent in Divasexplains, "don't belong anywhere but the border."


Jesús Barrón, whom Reyes calls "the hostess with the mostest," has gathered an intimate group of friends before the Phoenix performance of Deporting the Divas. At first he claims he slaved in the kitchen making the salsa and guacamole. He later recants, admitting he lay by the pool all day and bought the food at the market.

"With a name like Jesús, I cannot tell a lie," he says.

The quesadillas are real, though -- Guillermo makes them himself while the rest sit around talking. The Virgin of Guadalupe pop-up book, written in English so Anglo friends can understand, and Latinamagazine grace the coffee table. Barrón pulls out his "Who's on Top" map. It depicts the Western Hemisphere with South America placed above North America. He speaks of the time he and his Panamanian friend, Ricardo, were sitting at Denny's debating whether the waitress would know where Panama is.

"She didn't even know what Panama is," Barrón says.

Barrón and Ricardo enjoy Reyes' plays because they broach issues relevant to their lives as Latinos in the U.S., such as immigration and cultural ignorance. Barrón first met Reyes eight years ago when Men on the Verge played in Phoenix.

"I decided to invite him out for a drink after the show," Barrón says. "It was the first time I saw a play with themes like these -- Latin themes and gay themes. I was surprised."

Reyes says the night Barrón came and brought his friends was also the first night there was a large gay Latino presence in the audience. Audience demographic makes a difference at Reyes' shows. A straight audience may not get the gay jokes, an Anglo audience may not get the Latino jokes.

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