“The Play You Want”

Natalie Llerena and Peter Pasco star in the Road Theatre Company’s world premiere production of “THE PLAY YOU WANT” by Bernardo Cubria, directed by Michael John Garces and now playing at the Road Theatre in North Hollywood.
Natalie Llerena and Peter Pasco star in the Road Theatre Company’s world premiere production of “THE PLAY YOU WANT” by Bernardo Cubria, directed by Michael John Garces and now playing at the Road Theatre in North Hollywood.

A theatre review of “The Play You Want” written by Bernardo Cubria, directed by Michael John Garcés running through April 23 at the Road Theatre.

I attended this astonishing play with my Peruvian-born husband Javier, who is an actor.  I was keenly aware of how his experience of this particular story about the realities of finding and creating significant, or indeed any work as a hispanic actor, writer and director in L.A. would be so very different to mine.  

He was moved he told me, almost beyond words. As was I by this insanely clever, raw, moving and very funny story.  “The Play You Want”  is about a young Mexican born playwright, Bernardo Cubria, who has earned critical success and exclaim for his work feels the mounting pressure to monetise. A familiar feeling to us all I am sure, However, as a Latinx, a newly hatched term explored within the play, and a new father, his creative voice also feels the twisting industry pressure to write stories limited to the confines of race, immigration and drugs with the always expected elements of magical realism and downtrodden archetypes.  He is understandably frustrated and at a meeting with his agent, who threatens to drop him if he can’t deliver all of the above, he offers up, with spontaneous sarcasm, the first thing that pops into his head.  The agent swoops and within minutes and a phone call he is offered a staged reading of his spuriously spawned “Nar-cocos” play about an immigrant family haunted by the ghosts of drug dealers on the Day of the Dead at the famous Public Theatre in New York in only a week’s time.

Jonathan Nichols, Christopher Larkin and Natalie Llerena star in the Road Theatre Company’s world premiere production of “THE PLAY YOU WANT” by Bernardo Cubria, directed by Michael John Garces and now playing at the Road Theatre in North Hollywood.
Jonathan Nichols, Christopher Larkin and Natalie Llerena star in the Road Theatre Company’s world premiere production of “THE PLAY YOU WANT” by Bernardo Cubria, directed by Michael John Garces and now playing at the Road Theatre in North Hollywood.

Hysterical, Bernardo Cubria spends most of that following week in crises. Does he give them the play they want, cashing in on the contrived and limiting premise of the liberal white understanding of the hispanic experience?  To limited his not inconsiderable talents to writing about crime scenes and border patrols and mariachi, or does he hold onto his dignity and starve in obscurity?

I will leave you to ponder your own personal choice given this eternal cross road. I for one have no idea what I would do in his place. Bernado Cubria the character, careens through the following weeks to opening night, writing cliche after cliche, all the while hoping that someone would intervene, derail the juggernaut and prevent him from having to do the inevitable.

Bernado Cubria the writer uses his own name as the lead character in the play. The purpose of this I imagine is to put himself on the line as much as he does his character. A writer is famously only as good as their last piece, something as ironic as it is factual . As is any artist in fact.  But there is a delightful and unexpected twist as the sarcasm turns to the sardonic and we are left wondering if Bernardo isn’t quite the victim we all thought he was.  If, in point of fact, he has played the game with more skill than anyone else. 

Natalie Llerena and Peter Pasco star in the Road Theatre Company’s world premiere production of “THE PLAY YOU WANT” by Bernardo Cubria, directed by Michael John Garces and now playing at the Road Theatre in North Hollywood.
Natalie Llerena and Peter Pasco star in the Road Theatre Company’s world premiere production of “THE PLAY YOU WANT” by Bernardo Cubria, directed by Michael John Garces and now playing at the Road Theatre in North Hollywood.

“The Play You Want” is a brilliant and pervasive piece.  It stays with you long after the lights come up and you are alone in your bed.  It resonates, it reemerges and it reminds us all that the struggle is real and that whatever progress made is at the mercy of those who are really in charge. Unless of course it isn’t?

The real Bernado Cubria, the playwright, has a glittering career ahead of him. He has just sold his screenplay “Like It Used To Be,” which will be staring Gina Rodriguez and Karla Souza.  He is writing the “Untitled Ryan Garcia Project,” directed by Gina Rodriguez and starring boxer Ryan Garcia. He was the winner of the NNPN Playwright Award for Political Theatre in 2021. He co-wrote the short film “Spanish Class,” which won Best Comedy at The NBC Universal Shorts Awards in 2018. “The Play You Want” was awarded the Generation Award by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company in 2020 and the Ingenio 2020 Award for new play by a Latinx Playwright by The Milagro Theatre in Portland, Oregon. He was nominated for best playwright at The Ovation Awards, Stage Raw Awards, and The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards for his play “The Giant Void In My Soul,” which received a reading at Circle in the Square on Broadway in 2019 and will be produced at Luna Stage in 2022, and the Foro Shakespeare in Mexico City in 2022. His play “Neighbors: A Fair Trade Agreement” was produced Off-Broadway at INTAR in fall of 2017. It has since received a regional premiere at The Studio Theatre in Florida. He was a proud member of The Road Theatre Company’s Inaugural Under Construction Playwright’s Lab where “The Play You Want” was developed.

So perhaps the slightly fictional Bernado Cubria is his alter ego in some ways?  Regardless, it’s a truly wonderful character gorgeously brought to life by Peter Pasco, and he has surround him with other equally wonderful characters.  Struggling actors eager to please, famous icons of the Latino entertainment world, fierce producers, ie Scott Rudin, slithering and sliming on everything and everyone. Agents who seem stunningly real in their own uniquely icy ways, and a long suffering wife at her wits end, totally understandably.  There is even a puppet, his son, which is so remarkable and touchingly real he actually feels almost more real than anyone else. 

The set is amazing. Simple, surreal, agile and so beautifully undone as to echo the play’s very soul.  

Presciliana Esparolini stars in the Road Theatre Company’s world premiere production of “THE PLAY YOU WANT” by Bernardo Cubria, directed by Michael John Garces and now playing at the Road Theatre in North Hollywood.
Presciliana Esparolini stars in the Road Theatre Company’s world premiere production of “THE PLAY YOU WANT” by Bernardo Cubria, directed by Michael John Garces and now playing at the Road Theatre in North Hollywood.

Everything is always so gorgeously rendered at The Road.  But it still always takes my breath away a little.  The depth of the detail, the immersive qualities of every aspect of every moment of every production.  

“The Play You Want” is another in a long line of excellence helmed by Founder/Artistic Director Taylor Gilbert, Artistic Director Sam Anderson, and their seriously talented production crew. Bravo yet again to them all and to each and every one of these remarkable actors ripping out their hearts on stage for us to see. 

The director Michael John Garces created something very magical here. Tellingly without the use of magical realism…unless you count the puppet, which I chose not to.  He is the artistic director of Cornerstone Theater Company, a community engaged ensemble based in Los Angeles and has directed recent projects at City Theatre, The Alliance Theatre, The Geffen Playhouse, Arizona Theatre Company and Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center. He is also a playwright, recent projects include “Magic Fruit,” for Cornerstone, “The Forked Path” and “Los Illegals.”  Michael is the recipient of the 2020 Doris Duke Artist Award, the Princess Grace Statue and the Alan Schneider Director Award.  He serves as first vice president of the executive board of SDC, the theatrical union for stage directors and choreographers.

Together these immensely talented men have brought “The Play You Want” alive and managed to not only entertain us, but to enlighten us and to move us.

I am so glad to be back in the theatre and so grateful that The Road have more than survived the last couple of years. In fact, they have returned victorious in what is their 30th year of existence with a play as astoundingly brilliant as this.  

You can see “The Play You Want” at The Road Theatre on Magnolia now through April 24 and I strongly suggest that you do!!

Stewart J. Zully and Peter Pasco star in the Road Theatre Company’s world premiere production of “THE PLAY YOU WANT” by Bernardo Cubria, directed by Michael John Garces and now playing at the Road Theatre in North Hollywood.
Stewart J. Zully and Peter Pasco star in the Road Theatre Company’s world premiere production of “THE PLAY YOU WANT” by Bernardo Cubria, directed by Michael John Garces and now playing at the Road Theatre in North Hollywood.

The Cast: 

Peter Pasco as “Bernardo,” Chelsea Gonzalez as “Vera,” Natalie Llerena as “Chloe/Mija/J.Lo,” Jonathan Nichols as “Gilbert Cruz/Alfred Molina,” Roland Ruiz as “Lin Manuel Miranda/Mijo/Pablo/John Leguizamo,” Christopher Larkin as “Sam Gold/Chay Yew/Variety Reporter,” Stewart J. Zully as “Oskar Eustis/Scott Rudin,” and Presciliana Esparolini as “Abuela/Gloria Estefan.”

The Design Team: 

Scenic Design by Brian Graves; Lighting Design by Derrick McDaniel; Projection Design by Nicholas Santiago; Sound Design by Marc Antonio Pritchett; Costume Design by Michele Young; Puppet Design by Lynn Jeffries; Music Composition by Arian Saleh. The Production Stage Manager is Maurie Gonzalez. “The Play You Want” is produced by Tina Carlisi, Carlyle King and Danna Hyams.

When:

Running through April 24
Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm

Where:

The Road Theatre
10747 Magnolia Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601

Tickets:

https://roadtheatre.org/event/the-play-you-want/

Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros
Author: Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros

Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros is a Theatre and Food Writer and Filmmaker living in Los Angeles.

1 COMMENT