Man on the Verge

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

D. Scott Withers, director of Divas in Phoenix, says In Mixed Company, the theater where Divas played, had to consider how to interest gringos in a Latino piece.

"Immediately, almost 90 percent are going to think it doesn't pertain to them, which is not true," Withers says. "Divas is really so universal, because it's about accepting who you are."

It was a difficult show to cast.

Reyes (second from right) speaks with some cast members from A Bowl of Beings, which opens this fall.
Reyes (second from right) speaks with some cast members from A Bowl of Beings, which opens this fall.
Reyes (second from right) speaks with some cast members from A Bowl of Beings, which opens this fall.
Paolo Vescia
Reyes (second from right) speaks with some cast members from A Bowl of Beings, which opens this fall.

"I thought Guillermo would be really helpful in bringing in the Latino actors, but he wasn't able to get them," Withers says.

This is a dilemma Reyes faced in casting previous shows as well.

"I've had some Latino actors who don't want to play Latino characters," Reyes says. "They say they don't want to be stereotyped or typecast."

He has also had Latino actors who don't want to play particular Latino characters. Like the Cuban actor who was reluctant to play Che Guevara because he said Che killed his ancestors. He eventually decided not to take the role of Che because his family would have come to the show.

Playing gay characters is even more daunting for some Latinos.

"I let it be known that we were doing auditions for Divas, and only two Latino actors showed up -- the two we cast," Reyes says. "All the others did not show up. When we did auditions for Bowl of Beings [a Latino play lacking gay themes], 14 Latinos showed up. So you have to wonder what's going on there.

"Some of them are local actors and having family in town don't want to be seen in that light. I've seen that before. It's one of those things I constantly have to deal with."

Steven Peña and Tony Castellanos were the two Latino actors cast for Divas.Peña is not gay, Castellanos is, but both say they were untroubled by the themes of the show. Castellanos says he was just glad to be able to do a Latino role.

"It's rare that I can play a character who is so much like me," Castellanos says. "This is only the third Latin role I've ever played.

"He got into my head when he wrote this character."

The theater chose to market the most comedic aspects of the show, playing up the Carmen Miranda character. Withers says Reyes was a bit dismayed by this.

"Guillermo sees his piece a little more seriously, I think. You've got to market it to get an audience in there, and if we had marketed this as a serious political drama -- I mean, there were dramatic moments, but it's a comedy. An issue-oriented comedy."

Withers says in the end he thinks the production won over Reyes and the audience as well.

"You have all these things that could completely alienate a general theater-going audience, yet the show was a huge hit. I think that's because of the way he writes. It's funny, and he writes in a universal, feeling, emotional-based way.

"We had some people walk out of Divas, and that's okay. At least we got them to sit through an act. I think it's important that they got a little exposure -- a little light coming in there."

Reviewers have criticized Reyes' work for being too comedic, his characters too cartoonish. Some say he brings up serious issues without making a point, and every dramatic moment has to end in a punch line.

"How do you drive home a message?" Reyes asks. "It seems enough that a relationship is being explored between a Border Patrolman and an undocumented worker [in Divas]. I'm not sure how I would deliver more of a message without sounding didactic."

Barrón says he likes the fact that Reyes' plays are funny. He thinks it makes them more accessible to a straight or non-Latino audience.

"I like that he does it with comedy because people can think about the issues and still be entertained," Barrón says. "I don't want to be hit over the head with it."

The undocumented Mexican character Castellanos played in Divas espoused Reyes' belief that laughter can create bonds between people. When the character, Sedicio, first meets his Border Patrolman/love interest, he breaks the ice with a joke about how the officer did him a favor by deporting his homophobic cousin.

"I'm actually a fiery advocate of immigrant rights myself, but a joke is an attempt to find a comfortable middle ground with someone like you who represents the enemy," Sedicio says.


Guillermo Reyes sits in his office, below a Frida Kahlo print and a smiling Ricky Martin poster. He is upset. About as upset as he gets, which entails a slightly perturbed expression.

He is starting a theater company in the fall, and the Tribune's Get Out magazine printed a blurb about it, calling it a Spanish company. Max McQueen's "Theatre Scene" states, "At long last, the Valley has a Spanish theater." It's back to the classroom; Spanish people are from Spain.

Reyes, in conjunction with colleagues Trino Sandoval and Daniel Enrique Pérez, is starting a Latino theater company called Teatro Bravo. When the nonprofit troupe launches its inaugural season, its mission will be to produce plays that depict the Latino/Chicano experience, and give Latino/Chicano artists an opportunity and a venue to develop their skills. Ironically, La Voz, a Spanish-language newspaper, also got it wrong, saying it will be a Spanish-language theater. Bravo will be bilingual, presenting some shows in Spanish, some in English.

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