Of Juan Francisco Villa. Photo Credit: Saverio Truglia

Scheduled from now through August 12, the Yo Solo Theatre Festival at the Flat Iron Arts Building in Wicker Park will be exhibiting solo performances by expressive individuals who have a multitude of interesting and important stories to tell about Latino experiences. Read more about this festival and how to get tickets here . Last Friday I was lucky enough to see a preview of the festival’s “C” program, which featured two very different but entertaining and thought-provoking performers.

Antipoda

written and performed by Rey Andújar, directed by Marcela Muñoz
Rey Andújar set the stage for his show by filling the cool, cozy Pentagon Theatre’s up to its high ceilings with the smell of burning incense. In one line of his performance he described that familiar scent, saying “It smells like here.” Here is perhaps somewhere on the “journey across the Americas’ landscape,” as his performance was officially described by the Yo Solo festival. Andújar begins his solo show utilizing the corporeality and expressiveness of modern dance and simple costume to preface the words of Federico García Lorca and Charles Bukowski, which he shakes into a mix of equal parts Spanish- and English-language literature. The verbal aspect of his performance is a unique, bilingual form of Spoken Word, but at times it takes more traditional forms, such as of a a poetry reading in front of a microphone or actor mocking military rhetoric. The poetic words he performs are often very abstract, but one gets a constant sense of emotion and pensiveness. This comes to light, for instance, in brief but powerful claims and questions like “You don’t deserve Che Guevara” and “¿Qué vas a hacer cuando te canses de cansarte?”

Andújar celebrates beautiful blending of language and ideas that are too often separated, but to him make sense. His performance seems to grapple with the politics and experience of racialized bodies, war and crime, language, and music. However, I think his show also has the potential to hold even more meanings for a diverse audience.

Empanada for a Dream

written and performed by Juan Francisco Villa, directed by Alex Levy
In his solo show, Juan Francisco Villa transplants his audience into his young life in 1980s Lower East Side New York City. Villa carefully crafts his characters, which include his family, friends, and people from his neighborhood– even his ‘hood “Loisaida” and childhood apartment building are characters too. He describes and portrays them all with detailed and passionate storytelling and acting. Villa keeps the audience engaged in laughter (like his portrayal of his mother’s shrill yells of “¡Dios te va a castigar!) and in tears (such as when he talks about dealing with the struggles and untimely deaths of family members). I might be generalizing based on myself, but it seems that particularly those of us who are second- or third- generation Latinos will find some of ourselves in the motifs and cultural representations of Villa’s piece. Villa and his director Alex Levy also nicely utilize technical aspects like lighting and sound effects (and almost no stage props) to support the stories and emotions Juan Francisco Villa recounts, and do so without overpowering the organicness of the show.

Villa’s narrative ties together seemingly random memories of adolescence together with strong themes like growing up Colombian in a diverse place, feeling shame and resentment for one’s family and otherness, dealing with premature death, and the consequences of following the American Dream. He tells refreshingly honest tales of his family and hometown, showing them as complex sources of sanctuary and frustration; amusement and pain; and of hamburgers and delicious, homemade empanadas.

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