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Personal History: An Interview with Marga Gomez
October 31, 2017
Marga Gomez in Latin Standards (Photo: Fabian Echevarria)

In Latin Standards, Marga Gomez (POUND) performs the true story of perseverance and creative addiction passed down from immigrant father to lesbian daughter. Between portrayals of characters from 1960s Manhattan to present day San Francisco, Gomez ponders the ballads penned by her late father, Willy Chevalier. In advance of the show’s presentation at OBERON, Gomez spoke to A.R.T. Editor & Assistant Dramaturg Robert Duffley about her inspiration for the piece, and the deepening relevance of the narratives at its heart.

OBERON audiences may have seen you last in POUND—your hallucinatory send-up of lesbian portrayals in film—last summer. Latin Standards draws deeply on your father’s musical legacy. As a performer with roots in stand-up comedy, how do you find inspiration in other media including film and music?

I love this question. I’m in Paris at the moment (unexpected free trip) and feasting on visuals here from museums, the autumn sky, and the architecture while taking in the life force around me—which is oddly reminiscent of the New York Latino community into which I was born.

As a storyteller, I’ve tended to listen rather than look. (POUND drew from movies of the 60s through 90s that were dialogue-rich with much to parody). Since starting work on Latin Standards in 2016, I have begun to listen to music differently, finding similarities between how jokes and lyrics are constructed, and how these two different art forms service both sides of passion.

My father, a comedian and songwriter of several Spanish-language hits, was always typing and jotting things down and, well, drinking, too. In telling our story, I want the audience to both hear and see how it was with him at every moment. For inspiration in preparing Latin Standards, all I had to do was open my eyes. 

Latin Standards juxtaposes your father’s experience as a performer in the mid-twentieth century with scenes from your own stand-up career. Specifically, you look back at a comedy night that you produced at a Latino drag club in San Francisco in 2012. What inspired you to place those two time periods in dialogue?

Yikes. Mid-twentieth century. You’re right, although it makes me think of home furnishings. My father’s glory days were the 50s and 60s in New York. By the 70s, he was struggling for work as live entertainment venues in the Latino community suffered from the advent of Spanish television networks like Telemundo. I watched how my father never gave up performing and adapted to the market with varying degrees of success.

By 2012, I had followed in my father’s footsteps, making a decent living in comedy and theater in my adopted home of San Francisco. My audience base there—Latinos, queers, progressives, and other artists—was suddenly facing rampant and illegal evictions then (and now). These events impacted the comedy series I had been running at a historic Latino drag club called Esta Noche, which faced closure after 35 years in business. The drag queens and I had to find another place to work.

Fairly or unfairly, everything comes and goes in show business, and we all have to be ready. That need to adapt has not changed since my father hustled gigs and tried to write another hit song.

In many queer stories, parents are figures of grief or anger. This play (in which you perform the role of your father), however, seems to be an act of understanding, and of love. As a performer whose queerness has often been at the center of your work, what was your journey toward playing your father like? What drew you to tell this story, in a one-woman show, at this point in your life and your career?

I’ve heard plenty of homophobic parent stories in real life. In theater, we get to transform negativity to reach the love or some sort of win. 

I don’t deliberately center my queerness in my work unless it is a show like POUND, and I’ve been asked if I identify more as queer or Latina, and I can’t answer that, really. My overarching trait is that I’m an outsider, but funny. My dad and I bear a strong physical resemblance. I have his swagger and strive for his charm. In a way, I have been playing my dad all my life. I started working in autobiographical performance because my parents were amazing, and I lost them too soon. If I didn’t tell their stories, who would? Artists are now in unchartered territory—Latin Standards is a father-daughter story intended as a survival comedy for everyone.

The show’s subject matter is personal, and you started working on the piece before the 2016 election. But these days, contemporary politics loom over both immigrant narratives and Latinx stories—and this play is both. Have contemporary politics changed the way the piece works, or your own feelings about performing it?

I begin Latin Standards with a few minutes of stand-up comedy which was sillier in the early 2016 workshops. Since the presidential election, that opening monologue has become way edgier. As for the rest of the piece, a story of immigrants and drag queens just gets more relevant.

You’ve said that this solo play—your twelfth—is your last. What’s next for you? What projects are you working on, or just starting to dream about?

Topping my list is getting my solo plays published for future generations in whatever medium exists next week. I have been teaching solo performance in my spare time—I even taught a one-day performance intensive for The Theater Offensive in Boston a few years ago.  I also have a few screenplay ideas (who doesn’t?), and I continue to work as a stand-up comedian around the country. There’s so much I want to do, but I will leave the songwriting to my dad.  Whatever I do next will be found at margagomez.com.

Publication date:
October 31, 2017

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