Jackeline Torres Cortes

Identify the Differences

Review: Latinos Who Look Like Ricky Martin, Yale Summer Cabaret

Xavier (Robert Lee Hart) likes to get to the meetings early. He has to set up the space, arrange the chairs and pens, erase the whiteboard and put up his huge yellow sticky-notes. Monica (Jackeline Torres Cortés) arrives on time. Together, they are the Latino Student Union at a college, after the graduation of the seniors who officiated last year. They need to figure out ways to pull in other students, and they need to decide who will lead them as their new president. And—a newly pressing matter—they must decide how to react to a racist slur—in Spanish—someone spray-painted in red on school property, clearly aimed at Latino students. Note: it’s the same slur U.S. President Donald J. Trump, in tweetspeak, flung at four non-white U.S. Congresswomen, all U.S. citizens.

Emilio Rodriguez’s Latinos Who Look Like Ricky Martin, directed by Jecamiah M. Ybañez, is the final play of the Yale Summer Cabaret’s Verano Season, which aimed to explore and expand and explode notions of Latinx culture. Rodriguez’s engaging and entertaining play seems made to order. While it could brood and wring its hands about burgeoning racism in the U.S., the play instead is very knowingly tongue-in-cheek about the earnest intentions of those who police the borders of identity. To adapt Pogo-cartoonist Walt Kelly’s familiar saying about “the enemy”: We have met the racists and they are us.

What could be the problem, you ask. Certainly only bona fide Latinos would want to be part of the Latino Student Union, right? Sure, but how will they know each other? Skin color, mother tongue, favorite foods and music and celebrity icon, the country or region of their ancestral origin? Xavier, who has a best-kept secret about his own upbringing, looks the part, but can’t speak Spanish. Isaac (Dario Ladani Sanchez), a newcomer, is from Puerto Rico, speaks Spanish but looks white—and doesn’t see why empanadas are automatically preferable to quesadillas or nachos as identity foods. Monica, who looks, speaks and dresses the part of colorful Latinx party girl, has her issues with Xavier’s overbearing efforts and the boys’ club atmosphere furnished by his heir-apparent relationship to outgoing president Oscar.

Monica (Jackeline Torres Cortés), Xavier (Robert Lee Hart), Isaac (Dario Ladani Sanchez) in Latinos Who Look Like Ricky Martin, Yale Summer Cabaret

Monica (Jackeline Torres Cortés), Xavier (Robert Lee Hart), Isaac (Dario Ladani Sanchez) in Latinos Who Look Like Ricky Martin, Yale Summer Cabaret

There are reasons enough for grievances aplenty, and it all plays out with the lively tones of sitcom comedy—full of an ironic sparkle de rigueur for youths who know that they are always mouthing received images and ideas coming at them from their ever-present phones. Before we even get to the actual difficulties they face communicating and commiserating with each other, there’s a sharp sense of hyper-awareness registered by Ybañez and his cast that suits perfectly today’s collegiate. They know everything because everything is just a quick search away, and, what’s more, they know the whole world is potentially watching for anything inflammatory that anyone might share digitally.

And yet it is to Rodriguez’s credit that his characters aren’t simply caricatures. They play with our expectations and their own, and each is capable of pulling a surprise out of the hat—or tote, as the case may be. My one criticism of the plot’s trajectory is that Monica’s big reveal gets played out twice—once for Isaac and once for Xavier—when it would feel more dramatically surprising if we learned it when Xavier did (since the two have known each other longest and have a very appealing way of one-upping and supporting each other). Isaac’s own reveal comes across more as a weak plot point rather than a necessary factor in the situation—we might be happier with him as outsider than surprise insider. Such matters, by inviting some overthinking, can make the play feel more contrived than it needs to be.

Isaac (Dario Ladani Sanchez), Xavier (Robert Lee Hart)

Isaac (Dario Ladani Sanchez), Xavier (Robert Lee Hart)

What makes it work, in the Cab’s tight space with a wonderfully generic-appropriate meeting space complete with frosted-glass hall window by Elsa GibsonBraden, is the vividness of these three actors. Hart’s Xavier has so much attitude it fairly drips from all his comments and reactions, and, in one tense moment with Isaac, his pain is palpable. Yet Xavier is also terrifically funny in his obtuse single-mindedness. His identity is the Club in a way that can be at least a little off-putting to anyone who wants to “belong” in the room with him.

Monica (Jackeline Torres Cortés)

Monica (Jackeline Torres Cortés)

Cortés’ Monica is the life of the play, and her laughter is unpredictable and genuine. Monica likes to have fun and make fun, and her somewhat perverse strategy for drumming-up unity makes us take a second look at her. She may be the most politically astute—or at least she’s not taking Psychology (for the third time) for nothing. Sanchez plays Isaac with a certain canny vagueness; he’s the one we expect to have some ulterior motive because the other two aren’t sure about him, yet he seems so immediately likable and forthright we hope he will be the sensible one without the earnest investments of Xavier and Monica. His greater maturity is key to what he’s doing here—wearing, appropriately, what almost looks like a referee’s shirt.

In the end it seems that leading the Latino Club—like winning the presidency in the U.S.—is a zero-sum game, a fact that puts to flight any notion of “unity in community,” or “unidad in communidad,” or indeed unitedness among our 50 states to say nothing of between political parties. Rodriguez wants us to laugh at how ego-driven and shortsighted much of our need to be “in” is, as the tendency makes many aspects of life into popularity contests. And yet, trivial as that may seem, the wrong use of power—however attained—can leave those on the outside weaker and more desperate. The solidarity of others can be scary.

Xavier (Robert Lee Hart), Monica (Jackeline Torres Cortés), Isaac (Dario Ladani Sanchez)

Xavier (Robert Lee Hart), Monica (Jackeline Torres Cortés), Isaac (Dario Ladani Sanchez)

 

Latinos Who Look Like Ricky Martin
By Emilio Rodriguez
Directed by Jecamiah M. Ybañez

Scenic Designer: Elsa GibsonBraden; Costume Designer: Stephanie Bahniuk; Lighting Designer: Evan Anderson; Sound Designer: Noel Nichols; Stage Manager: Edmond O’Neal

Ensemble: Jackeline Torres Cortés, Robert Lee Hart, Dario Ladani Sanchez

Yale Summer Cabaret Verano
August 8-17, 2019

Join the Club, If You Can

Preview of Latinos Who Look Like Ricky Martin, Yale Summer Cabaret

The final show of the Yale Summer Cabaret’s Verano season opens this week, a new comedy by Emilio Rodriguez in which three college-student members of a Latino Student Union meet to decide how to make their club both inclusive and authentic. This goal quickly leads to having to “out Latino each other” to become the president the club needs.

The question, as the Summer Cabaret’s co-artistic director Jecamiah M. Ybañez, who directs the play, says, is about “how we shape identity and how people respond.” The three students—Xavier, Monica, and Isaac—have different ideas about how to appeal to other students who may or may not identify themselves with the group’s interests. In fact, the trio may have little in common other than a desire to represent Latinx culture, and even that shared interest might be a bit too amorphous for the kind of solidarity that Xavier and Monica—who want to “put the unidad in communidad”—aim at.

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The play’s title, Latinos Who Look Like Ricky Martin, is itself a test of sorts. Ricky Martin, born Enrique Martin Morales in San Juan, Puerto Rico, became known as the King of Latin Pop, with a worldwide fan base, beginning in the mid-90s, and a cross-over hit that topped American charts in 1999, “Livin La Vida Loca.” Does his fame and his looks make him an instant spokesperson for Latinos everywhere, or only those who “look like” him—in terms of features or coloring—or sound like him, or who would like to? And what if you’re not even much into a figure who becomes some kind of emblem for “people like you”?

For Ybañez such questions aren’t merely academic. Raised in San Antonio, TX, Ybañez doesn’t speak Spanish and, as a kid in the ‘90s when Ricky Martin’s first fame came, didn’t identify with the Spanish-language hits that made the singer’s name early on. For the director, Martin made a bit more of an impression when he finally came out as gay in 2010. A fact that adds another dimension to Martin’s identity and so complicates the very question of whether anyone can be a normative figure to unite a people’s full diversity.

And that’s the point, for Ybañez, of doing the play. As our social world becomes increasingly polarized and exclusive, with many preferring to communicate only within a bubble that ostracizes other members of the population, comedy can help portray some of the unsavory aspects that come with policing borders—in day-to-day exchanges, or as national policy.

Jecamiah M. Ybañez

Jecamiah M. Ybañez

The idea that “all people of a particular culture share one particular identity” is one that Ybañez said is not uncommon among advocates for identity politics. Such views can lead to “shaming,” where some members of, for instance, a Latino Student Union, may be “too Latin,” or “not Latin enough,” depending on their genetic and cultural antecedents. To Ybañez, instead of questioning others’ commitment to a given trait or attribute in order to dismiss those who “don’t get to be ‘in,’” such questioning should be “aimed to understand, to get to know” others and their differing backgrounds.

Further, what should the club—or any community based on free association—be? Each of the characters has a slightly different emphasis: the club could be simply “a hangout” for whoever likes Latinx culture—the food, the music, the look; or must it have initiatives to give Latinx culture a voice and an agenda in the larger culture at the school; or should it aim above all to welcome those who might not feel they fit in elsewhere?

The different views of those questions are dramatically relevant to the play, and are handled comically. Only one of the three will get to be the club’s president. Is winning a matter of having a vision and leading? Is it giving the people what they want? Is it making allegiances with allies who can help convince others? While the stakes are small for the dwindling numbers who make up the club, the play’s sense of how deep emotional need can readily escalate to absurd lengths is all-too American.

The cast features Robert Hart as Xavier and Jackeline Torres Cortes as Monica and Dario Ladani Sanchez, who was already seen at the Cab this summer in The Swallow and the Tomcat, as Isaac. Shows are this week, Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 p.m. and at 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and at 8 p.m. next week on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with 11 p.m. shows the latter two nights.

For tickets, dining menu and other information, go here.

 

Latinos Who Look Like Ricky Martin
By Emilio Rodriguez
Directed by Jecamiah M. Ybañez

Yale Summer Cabaret—Veranos
August 8-17, 2019