Man on the Verge

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

Reyes thinks a bilingual theater will better reach what he sees as a divided Latino community; there is the English-speaking Latino community of people who were brought up here and don't necessarily speak Spanish, and a new-immigrant community that may not speak English.

"There's a real complexity to this community, and that's what I'm looking to address with Teatro Bravo," Reyes says. "The other Phoenix theaters in general haven't been able to really click in with this community because they don't understand the complexity and different angles of it."

Reyes is clear about what Latino theater is -- and what it isn't.

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'm sorry, but Man of La Mancha is not a Latino play and neither is West Side Story, for that matter," he says. "They are not written by Latinos to begin with. And the composers and directors tend to not be Latinos. It's what I call the tourist version of Latino culture, written for a mainstream audience that doesn't know anything about Latino culture."

Teatro Bravo is likely to attract a culturally competent audience, or at least one that knows the difference between Europe and Latin America. But while Reyes may not run into as many cultural barriers, he may have trouble with his shows that attack taboo subjects within Latino cultures. He says himself that the gay themes of his plays have unnerved other Latino theater companies who worry that discussion of homosexuality won't fly with conservative audiences.

"I worked for a Latino theater company run by lesbians in L.A., and they never once did a play that was explicitly lesbian," Reyes says.

Megel says Reyes' work has been treated similarly.

"He's been ignored by Latino theater companies," Megel says. "I don't think people quite know what to do with him. This goes back to giving the Latino the minority slot, and if you are a Latino, you should be this. He's not this, so he's lost the minority slot and the other slots go to white writers.

"I think people are scared of the material, and the challenges it brings up. People are not comfortable looking at it or brave enough to deal with it.

"Guillermo becomes a problem because people do pigeonhole what they expect. And there is this one unnamed minority slot per season. And those theaters that do Latino plays are looking for more traditional expressions of Latino culture than he does."

According to a recent survey of the Theatre Communications Group, which represents nearly every nonprofit regional theater company in the nation, only 1.8 percent of all plays produced in 1999 were by writers with Hispanic surnames.

Reyes says minority pigeonholing is something he feels in many aspects of his professional life. He says he feels supported by faculty and staff at ASU -- most of the time.

"Sometimes I wonder if I'm just the Latino faculty member -- and if some just think, 'Oh, it's good that someone is doing something for the Hispanics' -- but don't think they need to come see my shows."

Reyes says Teatro Bravo won't eschew gay themes. However, the troupe's first-season lineup isn't exactly going to plunge into any, either. He doesn't want to placate the audience -- the first show is political and provocative -- but he also doesn't want to alienate anybody on opening night. In fact, at the fund raiser for Bravo, Reyes had the actors perform an excerpt from The Hispanick Zone that was bereft of gay themes.

Teatro Bravo won't be the first Latino theater company in the Valley -- others have come and gone -- but Reyes is striving for permanence. He says there is an audience for Latino theater, and a need for a company that dedicates itself to producing Latino shows.

"A lot of Latino plays are being ignored," Reyes says.

Reyes hopes that Teatro Bravo can change this, while also increasing awareness about what Latino theater has to offer. He hopes their shows will appeal to not only the Latino community.

"You'd think if the art is done well, it would reach beyond one particular group," Reyes says.

"If it crosses borders and people are able to enjoy it at whatever level, that's what I'm interested in doing."

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