A Man With Issues

Andres Alcalá performs a series of monologs dealing with issues of sexual identity and being Latino

When Portland-based actor Andres Alcalá first performed in Tucson in 1999, he came on stage and nearly had a series of breakdowns. This week, he's dealing with self-esteem issues. And it's all the fault of ASU playwright Guillermo Reyes.

Alcalá made his Tucson debut in Reyes' hilarious series of monologs, Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown, presented five years ago by Borderlands Theater. Chilean-born Reyes defined a "His-panic breakdown" as "the life-altering trans-cultural shock resulting from the double whammy of international emigration and the simultaneous search for one's sexual identity."

Alcalá has returned to the Borderlands stage twice since then, doing superb work in Sueño (2001) and Kiss of the Spider Woman (2002). But now he's fallen in with Reyes again, and the result is Men on the Verge 2 (The Self-Esteem Files).

As before, all the characters--played by Alcalá--are dealing with issues of sexual identity and being Latino, but this is a whole new group of men in comic crisis.

The actor says he's determined that this show will appeal to people who don't happen to be gay Latinos. "A lot of the issues the characters are dealing with are universal," he said last week. "I want people to understand that these people are human, not the stereotypical gay or Latino or immigrant. Everyone has these human qualities in them, whether they're gay, straight, Latino or any label you can think of. People in the audience are going be touched in ways they don't realize they're going to be touched, because what they're sympathizing with is simply a human, somebody going through a painful situation or a funny situation."

Yet not every character is easy for Alcalá to connect with, for reasons you might not expect. "I don't want to give away too much," he said, "but two characters back to back play off each other, this janitor and then his partner, and they're connected in a strange way through Sept. 11 and the World Trade Center. There's not a lot of physicality to those characters; they tell a story that comes from a strictly emotional place, so I don't have a physical connection to a lot of the words that get me through the monologs. I have to trust that I'm getting the emotional connection down. I think it's the most powerful piece in the entire show, as well."

On the other hand, the actor admits that certain moments in the play seem as if Reyes has stolen material from Alcalá's life. Reyes has even placed some of the action in Alcalá's home base of Portland, Ore., particularly at the greatest book store in North America, Powell's City of Books. "There's a bibliophile in this play who thinks it's almost sinful how much he loves books, and he meets the love of his life at Powell's," said Alcalá.

Alcalá's had a degree of formal input into the show, too, he said. With Reyes and director Joseph Megel, he has helped reshape some passages that didn't quite work, suggested music to incorporate into the production and bought $300 worth of costumes to take on the road for performances this summer and fall in Phoenix and Chicago, and possibly later in New York and Los Angeles.

The actor admitted that the prospect of carrying a show like this on his own, night after night, can be intimidating. "But once the show is up, it's going to be all right," he said. "I trust the audience will give me enough energy and laughs to get through the show. Right now, a week before we open, it's taxing getting the lines down, getting the transitions down. But I know that even if I don't have any energy before the show, the audience will give me what I need. Of course, I crash afterwards."

Another challenge comes in the play's assemblage of disparate, briefly seen characters. "In Kiss of the Spider Woman, I lived that character straight through from beginning to end, and there was one huge dramatic arc," he said. "But in these monologs, I have maybe 10 minutes at most to show the arc of a character, his past and his present and where he's going. So the stakes are definitely raised."

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