By Clara Galvano
The last segment of a trilogy written by Pulitzer Prize winner Quiara Alegría Hudes will be performed at the Second Stage Theatre from February 11-March 23. According to Alegría Hudes (the Tony-nominated author of “In The Heights”), she had wanted to write a “jibaro” play since 1997 and although she visualized it as a trilogy, she meant for each of the segments to stand alone. The lead character, Elliot, is named for one of her cousins, but the story is fiction. According to her, the Elliot in this story has restless feet and although life takes him many places, he always has the innate sense that there is greatness within him.
Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson told LatinTRENDS that he had been asked to direct the second segment, “Water by the Spoonful,” however due to pressing professional commitments he had been unable to comply. When he received a call to direct “The Happiest Song Plays Last,” he first turned it down, but when his agent asked him again and he read it, he said, “If someone else directs this and they don’t get it, and mess this up, I am going to get angry and want to fight somebody, so I decided to do it. This was a very important opportunity to tell a story about a Boricua man in the most human sense of the word. It’s beautifully crafted.”
Tony Plana, one of the actors in the play, graciously sat with LT during our informal talk with the writer and director, and told LT that the play brings up the challenge of being bi-cultural as Puerto Rican-Americans or Cuban-Americans, etc, as well as the question of legacy. Plana, a Cuban, said the play made him ask himself how he is carrying on his parents’ legacy and what legacy he is leaving his children.
On January 15th, Second Stage held a “jibaro”-style “parranda” to celebrate the play. Nelson Gonzalez, Grammy Award-nominated musician thrilled the audience. Gonzalez, well known for his mastery of the Cuban Tres guitar, is excited to be involved with the play’s Puerto Rican Cuatro and jibaro music, which were his first loves. This music served as Alegría Hudes’ musical muse for this play. In addition to the holiday “parranda” music, traditional Puerto Rican plena and bomba were played throughout the evening as everyone danced.
Copies of the two previous plays in the trilogy were on sale and this happy LT writer snagged them. The author’s inscriptions in one of the books for me? “Eating cannoli while dancing salsa. Wepa!”captures the spirit of a magical night. Make plans to get to Second Stage at 305 West 43rd Street so you can meet title characters, Eliot and Yaz on their journey to peace and purpose in an ever-changing world.
AN INTERVIEW WITH ARMANDO RIESCO
Actor Armando Riesco is busy. He is reprising his role of Elliott Ortiz in “The Happiest Song Plays Last,” the final installment in a stage trilogy by Pulitzer Prize winner Quiara Alegria Hudes and then it’s “Rubia” time! Taking risks is part of being an actor and Riesco took one accepting the role of Rubia, a transsexual, in the film “Adult World,” starring Emma Roberts and John Cusack. “I passed on the audition at first…the character was something I had never done before. Then I went home and started thinking about it. Hey, I’m an actor, so, why not? I should be able to do anything, right? I even spoke to my very conservative, Republican dad who told me to go for it. He’s always been very supportive of my work. I did it, and I loved it, the film was a blast! Emma and I had the best time. We had so much fun. I think that this will come through on the screen. We improvised 90% of the film…the camera guys were laughing so hard, they had to redo some of their work!”
Riesco, respects and enjoys being around mature actors. For instance, while working on “National Treasure”, he noticed Jon Voight talking to himself, getting into the role before the director called “action!” “He didn’t wing it at all. He worked at it, every day. Older actors know what they are doing. Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Director, “Happiest Song”) once told me ‘trust the old guys’”. Riesco throws in an old Spanish adage: “Más sabe el diablo por viejo, que por diablo”.
Riesco’s parents are Cuban, but he was born and raised in Puerto Rico. How does this affect his cultural self-identification? “I never thought about this until I got to NYC. I grew up thinking I was 100% Puerto Rican. I ate rice and beans every day, went to school in PR with other Puerto Rican kids…hey, I was Puerto Rican.” He says his mother must have missed Cuba and often recited Jose Marti poems. He surprised me by starting to recite “Yo Soy Un Hombre Sincero, De donde crece la palma, Y antes de morirme quiero echar mis versos del alma. ..” the poignant Marti poem from “Versos Sencillos” (1891). Riesco says, “I’ve never been to Cuba, so how can I be Cuban? I do have an umbilical cord to Cuba for sure, but I really think of myself as being Puerto Rican. That’s one of the beautiful things I love about New York City—it accepts all the differences between people. NYC is America. I love living here!”
Asked what most people don’t know about him and Riesco gave LT a scoop—he and his wife are expecting a baby around June! Congratulations!
Check out more on our interview Armando Riesco with in our March issue of LatinTRENDS!