It’s a funny title, isn’t it? Dancing in My Cockroach Killers. Yet, profoundly telling. About stereotypes. About other cultures. About “our” opinions of Latinos. Yet, this is not a show about Latin ethnicity generally, but rather a specific celebration of Puerto Rico and its rich culture, musical heritage, and ability to survive an oppressor that has sought to denigrate and exploit—simultaneously—what makes it distinct and remarkable.
Cockroach Killers achieves that through a series of vignettes, mostly musical (or heavily layered with music) and poem-esque performance pieces that both explore the personal and reflect on the current state of Puerto Rican affairs (i.e., Hurricane Maria, Donald Trump—though never mentioned by name, but who else would be called the “orange demon” in the context of a “contaminated government”?).
The score is delectable, using Afro-Puerto-Rican-Caribbean music to power and thread each piece with continuity. It is ushered along largely by sublime percussion, keeping time to the beating heart of the show. Nicky Laboy, sitting in the shadows, save for a center-stage bongo solo, nearly steals it all, which is impressive considering he is up against an ensemble with charisma and flair baked into its foundation. Desmar Guevara, the Musical Director, Composer, and Keyboardist, has created a lively and heady soundtrack, which includes Alvaro Benavides on bass.
Dancing in My Cockroach Killers
closes July 1, 2018
Details and tickets
The ensemble—Yaremis Felix, Caridad De La Luz, Krystal Pou, Jesus E. Martinez, Omar Perez, and Christin Eve Cato—is very good, with Felix and Perez as standouts. Everyone has their moment, but these two pull off two of the best (and completely, truly solo) performances in “Fuego en la Cocina” and “Christian,” respectively.
“Fuego” is a straightforward, stripped down piece wherein Felix portrays an abused woman, recounting her husband’s beatings as she washes clothes in a tub of water. Each piece becomes a reminder of a date and time that he betrayed his promise of never again, culminating in rape. Felix is astounding. “Christian” is the opposite of “Fuego” in many ways: nonsensical, irreverent. A bit meandering. And, funny. Perez handles it deftly, making sense of something that often does not make sense. Trauma. And that is the commonality in the two pieces.
Cato, with support, ends the show on a fun piece (“A River of Recuerdos”) and joins Pou in leading “Encarcelados” while Martinez stands out on “Madre de Bomba.” De La Luz leads and anchors the two best ensemble pieces, “Maria” and “Soap and Water.” The latter in which she recounts a childhood crush hijacking a school assembly by subtly mispronouncing “Georgia” in a song so that he’s saying, “cho-cha.” (female genitalia). Or a type of cat, if you want a more direct interpretation.
Mostly in English, but sometimes in Spanish with translation, Cockroach Killers did alienate me at moments. While knowing what cho-cha means is critical to understanding “Soap and Water,” there are times when Spanish words are dropped—to hoops and hollers—but not translated. Made me feel as if secrets are built into the show of which…non-Spanish speakers? Non-Hispanic white people?…aren’t allowed to partake. And, there was one other thing. The actors are listed in the program as characters (2 each), but the vignettes are attributed to the actor. And (as far as I could hear) none of the “characters” names are used. So…who the actor is supposed to be in each vignette is really unclear.
Still Dancing in My Cockroach Killers powerfully celebrates, and ruminates on, Puerto Rico—what it is, what it will be, and what it has survived even while being oppressed. During “Maria” you are reminded of this. The 2017 hurricane, the cast reminds you, did not “steal our land.” It did not break Puerto Rico’s banks or shut its schools or calls its citizens’ cockroaches. All that happened long before. And yet its people have preserved. With spirit, humor, and heart.
Dancing in My Cockroach Killers . Directed and Adapted by Rosalba Rolon. Text and Visuals by Magdalena Gomez. Music and Musical Direction by Desmar Guevara. Featuring Yaremis Felix, Caridad De La Luz, Krystal Pou, Jesus E. Martinez, Omar Perez, and Christin Eve Cato. Musicians: Desmar Guevara (Conductor and Keyboard), Nicky Laboy (Percussion), and Alvaro Benavides (Bass). Production: Christopher Annas-Lee, Lighting Design; Harry Nadal, Costume Design; Paulette Beauchamp, Choreographer; Devin Mahoney, Technical Director; Lena Salins, Production Manager; Hugo Medrano, Producer; and Alejandra Ramos Riera, NY Stage Manager. Stage Managed by Artemis Lopez. Produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.