Name: Guillermo Reyes
Hometown: Santiago, Chile
Current Town: Phoenix, Arizona
Affiliations: Arizona State University
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: Latino, Chilean-American, but really “mestizo” might be more genetically correct. When the homo sapiens crossed the Bering Strait, they populated the Americas, and then they got called Indians by the people who crossed the Atlantic, and they mated, and that’s where I draw my genes. Our basic homo sapiens identity has gotten thrown aside for various nationalistic, tribal, colonial, linguistic, and corporatist labels we carry around with us.
Q: Tell me about Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown.
A: The current production of my 1994 play has been revived in West Hollywood, CA at the Macha Theater, produced by Teatro de las Americas after a March 2017 run in Oxnard, CA. It stars actor Armando Rey and is directed by James Donlon. Rey plays a variety of Latino male immigrants set mostly in Southern California dealing with a personal crisis that gets worked out through a vigorous process of comedic unraveling which I call the “His-Panic breakdown.” I borrowed and spoofed the Pedro Almodóvar film title, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and what I loved about that film is how each of the women arrived at their breakdown in a unique personal fashion, with comic energy and lovely hysteria. In this case, these men are coping with not only issues of immigration but with sexual identity or sexual repression, and that combination creates the double layering of crisis which becomes their His-Panic breakdown. It’s a playful script and I enjoyed reading on Facebook from a contributor who said, “I laughed from the beginning to the end.” I’d like to guess that some of these audience members are crying as well, that the breakdown can be hilarious in a uniquely cathartic manner.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: First, a youth play called Q-Kid Rap. A grant from Transborder Studies at Arizona State University allowed me to research the issues of queer youth suicide, and I provide a Latino-borderland perspective here as well since the main character is a Mexican-American teenage boy considering suicide. I did a workshop with the Rising Youth Theater in downtown Phoenix and presented it for an audience. I know some of my friends felt intimidated by the subject matter but I reassured them that it had music, humor, and it ends on a note of hope. It’s not a play about relentless despair, in other words.
Second, I received a fellowship from the Bogliasco Foundation of Genoa, Italy, to be in residence in March-April 2017 to write a new play about Rudolph Valentino and his true relationship (highly fictionalized in my dramatic rendering) with a wealthy Chilean heiress, Blanca. As a young man before he ever became a movie idol, Valentino danced with wealthy women for a tenuous living and his relationship with Blanca blossomed into an alleged romance in the midst of chaos surrounding Blanca’s marriage to a wealthy American businessman. Blanca fought with her husband over custody of her child and shot him to death, provoking a sensational murder trial. I enhance the entire story with the use of elaborate tango dances. It’s titled and subtitled as Valentino and the Chilean Heiress: A Tango Fantasia. I didn’t think I’d finish a draft in Italy. I thought I’d just start the research, but ten days into my stay I fell just by simply walking the streets of Genova and fractured my foot. I was immobile for several days and a first draft emerged.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: The realization that sometimes we get it “right” after years of struggling with the craft. As a student, both at UCLA and then UCSD, I mostly stumbled along with my learning and thought the writing process was too slow. I suspected I’d never grow as an artist. The full-length play was and remains arduous and that is probably as it should be. I learned at UCSD to content myself with a scene that worked, or a monologue that felt complete in less than ten minutes. In fact, I performed a few of the monologues at a late-night show, and some of those monologues formed part of the one-man show called Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown, which has become my most oft-produced play. Each monologue was crafted out of a certain youthful insecurity with living and perhaps that’s why together they came to comprise a coherent document of existential humor that still strikes people as true. So in essence, learning to complete short assignments that later grew into full-length projects seems like a journey of growth. I really didn’t know at the time that’s what I was doing because I thought I could write a full-length play in no time because I’d will it into existence, but luckily, I wasn’t entirely clueless, just young and impatient.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: I give thanks to my professors, at UCLA Carol Sorgenfrei and the late Gary Gardner, at UCSD Allan Havis and the late Adele Shank. Certainly Jorge Huerta as a professor of Chicano Theater helped me understand that one aspect of American theater (and of my own issues with Latino identities, since I felt as a Chilean I harbored more than one identity, and Chicano culture enriched it thanks to scholars like Huerta.) It didn’t hurt that Dario Fo’s monologues (written with and for Franca Rame) in A Woman Alone also gravitated towards the absurd and hysterical along with the Almodóvar sensibility. I needed them all at that time.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Read everything, not just plays. Read science, history, philosophy, biographies and contemporary issues as well as great works of fiction, poetry and drama, and then read some more. The writing process will take a long time, but what sustains you is your own growth as an artist and as a thinker. You need to be open to the world around you, and trying different types of writing will require more knowledge for you to “bank” and one day to finally use. I didn’t think I’d get to my 50s. I was a fatalistic 20 year-old. I thought General Pinochet or nuclear war or AIDS would get me in the 80s. I’m writing things now I never thought I’d be writing, like youth plays or plays with music which require me to write lyrics and create rhyming schemes. I’m studying the lyrics in Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen songs, and I do hark back to my Chilean background by re-learning the songs of Violeta Parra and Victor Jara.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I wrote an entire book! It’s called Madre and I: A Memoir of Our Immigrant Lives and it’s published by the University of Wisconsin Press. I figured that should answer most questions as I’ve gone over my word limit in this.
***For more on Guillermo Reyes, see:
- Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown – Guillermo Reyes (Dramatic Publishing)
- “Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown Turns Twenty” – Guillermo Reyes (Café Onda/HowlRound)
- “Playwright Guillermo Reyes Thinks Phoenix Theaters Need to Shine More Light on Latino Culture” – Robert Pela (Phoenix New Times)
- “5 Questions with Guillermo Reyes” – Playwrights Theatre of NJ
- “Interview w/ Guillermo Reyes” – Pluma Fronteriza
- Interview with Guillermo Reyes about Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown
- Guillermo Reyes at New Play Exchange