Before a packed house at the Gunston Arts Center, Saulo Garcia, a one-man miracle takes us on a jittery joy-ride representing a cast of thousands— the immigrants who trade in their Latino identities for the American Dream.
Backed by a set of silk screen prints – a close up of George Washington from the U.S. dollar, an etching of the Statue of Liberty, and a finger print – Garcia’s predominant role is as a playful character with an expressive face and soulful eyes. Costumed in scruffy jeans, duck-billed cap, dorky tennis shoes, and a variety of T-shirts (one moss-green, black-lettered with JETS), he is a “comedic troubadour,” in modern dress.
Troubadours originally traipsed the courtyards of Europe from 1100 to 1350 A.D. rhapsodizing about the beauty of their idyllic lady. For Garcia, originally from Marinilla, Colombia, the love flooding his heart is for his South American homeland.
Cultural adaptation isn’t easy. The adjustment period some immigrants go through, Garcia shows us, is like a dark tunnel. It can be a sad-happy story that needs to be told and laughed at. Based on last Friday night’s performance, the miracle is the way Garcia, fresh from a five year run Off-Broadway at the Repertorio Espanol in New York City, exuberantly pulls off an entertaining evening that works like a therapeutic tonic.
Garcia warms us up by stretching out spread-eagle on his sofa bed. A comfortable bed only exists in Colombia, Garcia tells us. In contrast, the U.S. sofa beds, whether found in the dump and recycled, or bought new on time payments, are torture devices, made to discourage any visitor from overstaying his welcome. But then, who needs plush, feather-down mattresses in the U.S. where you don’t have time to sleep? The dream of “getting ahead” is more alluring and Garcia, it seems, has become an American insomniac. Way back when, Garcia remembers lessons from his mother. Learn not just to live but how to survive, she said. Now, even though his mother back home boasts that her son lives next door to Obama in Washington, D.C., Garcia finds that to survive in the promised land, “We need three jobs.” He’s not just speaking for himself.
What’s refreshing is the way Garcia speaks directly to us (gringos included) not just at or about for us. Although the theme remains the same with each performance, his rapid-fire banter changes because of audience interaction. (Last Friday’s was friendly and responsive.) Garcia singles out audience members to needle with light-hearted rap on touchy subjects like political instability in some countries. Then, as if sensing when a tepid topic is becoming too hot, he gently eases onto a sidetrack, such as the one on owning his first car or Disney theme parks in America. In Colombia, you don’t need rides on roller coasters, Garcia deadpans. Violence in the streets is enough to give you an adrenalin rush.
There may be no guerillas lurking around street corners, or bandits with knives in a U.S. town square, but in here, you face other dangers. You risk falling asleep driving those gigantic superhighways where every rest stop or interchange looks the same. Or as you anxiously wade through citizen applications or wait in long lines, you still live in fear of imminent deportation. And why do immigrants have digestive problems after coming to the U.S.? There’s too much control of the food and water that has vitamins in it. “They put so much wholesomeness in you, you get sick.” So just what is this crazy dream we’re all reaching for? By the time you pay off the 30-year mortgage, you’re dead, Garcia jokes.
The troubadour’s satire tops off irony with more ironies when Garcia picks up his guitar and sings:” “Give me the fare so I can go back home.” (original music by Orlando Zuluaga). Merrily, we all are invited to clap and sing-along. The ultimate high point, however, comes with the twist at the end of Garcia’s one hour and 45 minute patter. For 15 years, you study English, he says. After 20, you become a legal citizen. Then, after all you’ve been through, you return to your country. Why? To return has been your dream all along. “We all dream of going back to our customs, our traditions.”
Marcela Ferlito’s simultaneous English translation of a totally improvised text, after only one rehearsal, came over the headset amazingly spot-on cue. Budget constraints preclude a longer engagement but Garcia’s wonderful act will go on as long as immigrants keep coming. Check out his web site for future performances: www.SauloGarcia.net
Colombia is the first in a series of six more productions from Latino countries, here for The Twelfth International Festival of Hispanic Theater that runs until November 14,th from Buenos Aires, Argentina; Uruguay; Dominican Republic, Venezuela; and Cordoba, Argentina. From the local Teatro de la Luna theater company there’s a children’s show “The Cat and the Seagull” (El Gato y la Gaviota).
Argentina is represented next: , Thurs.-Sat., from Oct. 22-24, in a tribute to the poet/playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. Fan of a Single Woman, (Abanico de Soltera), written and enacted by Andrea Julia, a winner of many best acting awards.
The American Insomnia (El Insomnio Americano)
Written, directed and performed by Saulo Garcia
Produced by Teatro De La Luna for the 12th International Festival of Hispanic Theater
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy