Let’s get real: We’ve all experienced the tension between the “traditional” and “modern” elements of mainstream Latino culture. And in the forty years since LGBTQ movements chiseled out a space for its community, one of the biggest rifts in our collective culture has been over homosexuality. The resulting stereotypes of Latinos as machista, homophobic bigots have been less than flattering.
El Incas—the newest work from Mexican-born playwright Raúl Dorantes and Colectivo El Pozo—reexamines that trope in its Humboldt Park premiere.
The story centers on a pair of gay Central American men, Martín (Nelson Rodriguez) and Fernando (Armando Reyes). Very much in love, they secretly meet every week at El Incas bar, owned by Cata, a trans woman (or a drag queen; it’s unclear which). Cata (Alex Gualino) talks the pair through the roughest patches in their romance, always traceable to the fact that both men are married—to women.
Martín’s wife Marta (Guadalis del Carmen)—a Puerto Rican woman who knows her husband likes men and agrees to an open relationship—understands his affair. And though at 38, she wants a child from Martín, Marta never shames her husband for his sexuality. Fernando has been dealt a more challenging hand. He and his wife Cristina (Cruz Gonzalez Cadel) already have a child—with another bun toasting in the oven. Unaware of her husband’s sexuality and convinced he’s having an affair with another woman, the Argentine rants about her gay brother’s “immorality” using every Spanish slang word for the three-letter f-bomb I’ve ever heard.
The story unfolds as the two men contemplate whether they’ll stay with their wives—or embark on a new life together and face the spectrum of judgment that likely awaits their budding relationship.
El Incas’ cast was phenomenal, with standout performances from del Carmen and Cruz Gonzalez. (The cast performed last weekend while battling a final round of the flu, something viewers would have been hard-pressed to pick up on.) Still, in such an intimate theatre—a backroom of La Casa Oscar López—the audience feels like they’re in Fernando and Cristina’s living room as they argue in front of the television, or sitting at one of the tables at Cata’s bar. The show is tasteful, and doesn’t rely on making a spectacle or scandal of homosexual love in order to send its message.
Where El Incas did disappoint a bit was in its storyline. Despite its stated aim of exploring Latino attitudes toward homosexuality, I for one left the theatre feeling more sympathy for the wives than for Fernando and Martín (the audience is given woefully little backstory about their relationship). Off-hand comments about Obama and HIV seem out of place and irrelevant. The passing mentions of the conquest of the Americas—of our pre-Colombian ghosts—seem downright forced.
But what bothered me more was [SPOILER ALERT] a scene where Marta marches Cristina down to El Incas to let her in on her husband’s little secret. Cata Presumably raised a man, and possibly still identifying as one, she proceeds to tell Cristina that she needs to leave her husband. As for Marta? It’s her fault that she’s never had children: She should have moved on instead of waiting for Martín. Good advice, granted. But given that the play is meant to be a foray into changing Latino attitudes around sexuality and gender, it was disappointing to see such a heteronormative trope in the show. Why should a man’s inability to act openly on his sexuality be the wife’s issue, especially when both husbands outwardly express interest in continuing the marriages?
But El Incas is a ballsy production even today, as Latino attitudes are shifting, though a major generational and/or cultural gulf continues to separate acceptance from hate. The show forces the audience to do a quick reality check: Latinos are LGBTQ or allies ourselves as often as we are homophobes—maybe more often. So as allies and Latinos, why should we buy into those stereotypes? Or worse, why should we spew the same tired, Catholic-guilt spin on sexuality? And amen to Dorantes and Colectivo El Pozo for moving that dialogue forward.
You should really check it out this weekend through Sunday, at 2628 W. Division.