Play offers ‘community, communion, commiseration’ for Mexican-Americans


Play offers ‘community, communion, commiseration’ for Mexican-Americans

By Miranda Manier

After performing to sold-out houses for three months, Free Street Theater’s “Meet Juan(ito) Doe” has been remounted for a limited four-week run until March 30. 

“Meet Juan(ito) Doe,” a surrealist movement and monologue-based play, tells the stories of Mexican-Americans in Chicago. The show, at 4346 S. Ashland Ave., relates the similarities and differences of members of Chicago’s Mexican-American community, according to Ricardo Gamboa, the  show’s co-director. 

Instead of using conventional interviewing techniques, Gamboa said he collected stories from people in the community through nontraditional events that were conducive to storytelling. 

“[The development process] was about weaving story collecting into the process as a form of community building, communion and commiseration,” he said. “We had a karaoke night where people were able to request songs on the list, [but] the songs were like ‘a song that your grandmother played.’ [Then] there was space for them to share their stories.” 

These stories are seldom told by the people experiencing them, Gamboa said. Stories of underrepresented communities are typically outsourced to white writers or produced in spaces that are inaccessible to the communities about which they are writing, he added.

Gamboa has seen “Meet Juan(ito) Doe” generate considerable excitement from the community. He suspects this is in part due to the performances being offered in an accessible location. 

“One of the things that was really important [to us] was basing the show in the South Side,” Gamboa said. To make this a reality, Free Street Theater rented a storefront in Pilsen. 

According to Coya Paz, artistic director at Free Street Theater, 1419 W. Blackhawk St., the space only seats 42, but that does not diminish  its importance. 

“So often, black and brown audiences are asked to travel far from their homes in order to see plays,” Paz said. “We’re thrilled to offer an alternative.” 

Aurelio Rodriguez, a sophomore cinema and television arts major who teaches photography in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, has taken his students to several of Free Street’s shows. He thought “Meet Juan(ito) Doe” was showcasing many issues they could relate to. 

“[‘Meet Juan(ito) Doe’] gave a little more insight to things that students in the neighborhood were feeling,” Rodriguez said. 

For Gamboa, one of the more crucial aspects of the show was offering representation.

“What does it mean for a population that’s omnipresent in Chicago [to be so] underrepresented?” he said. “And how is that a defacto way of telling them they are not here or they don’t belong or they    don’t matter?”