In the play “Growing Up Gonzales,” a young boy eyes his abuela (grandmother) searching through the pockets of his abuelo’s (grandfather’s) pants for spare change. “I’m not stealing,” the abuela declares, “I’m budgeting.” In another scene, the mistress of a deceased family member shows up at his funeral, with explosive consequences. Later, a character blithely declares that, “Death is God’s way of making the line short at Sears.”
These vignettes – and more – come to life in a one-man show that takes a bittersweet look back at coming of age in the Bronx in the 1970s and 1980s. Written by Felix Rojas, “Growing Up Gonzales” stars Andres Chulisi Rodriguez and is currently playing at the Medicine Show Theater in New York City.
“Growing Up Gonzales” centers on the memories flooding back to “Johnny” when he cleans out the apartment of his deceased brother “Cisco.” Lead actor Rodriguez plays Johnny, Cisco, and a host of other family members. Alternately raucous and moving, the play is set to run until April 9th.
Playwright Rojas told NBC Latino that “only a small percentage” of his play is autobiographical. “I think the message that Gonzales would like to deliver is that life is short,” he said. “So often we get caught up in things, and forget to heal the wounds that prevent us from being the people we can be.”
“Growing Up Gonzales” has had several earlier runs, beginning in 2010. Along the way, it has received generally positive reviews. A 2012 review in the New York Times pronounced it “part stand-up, part melodrama, and part cultural tourism.” That same year, a review from the performing arts weekly Backstage called the show an “affectionate, gritty, and spicily authentic collage.”
“Growing Up Gonzales” covers cultural terrain that will be familiar to many Puerto Ricans, such as making pasteles at Christmas, playing on a Roberto Clemente little league team, and watching the bombshell performer Iris Chacon on Spanish-language television. It also encompasses identity issues that will ring true to other Latinos. One young character wonders why he is American at school, Puerto Rican at home, and “Nuyorican” in Puerto Rico.
At the heart of Gonzales is the broken relationship between two brothers, Johnny and Cisco, each of whom inhabits his own world of loss and nostalgia. After reflecting on memories of his brother, Johnny says sadly, “I wish I could have taken this journey with you in life… instead of death.”
Rojas is proud of the diverse audiences his play has attracted over the last several years. “I write from experience, and life has no genre,” he said. “Your soul has no ethnicity. I hope to write in way that attracts everybody.”
Read the complete article on NBC News.