By Donna Herman
It takes a lot of guts to get up by yourself on a stage in front of an audience and try to entertain them for 5 minutes, much less 75 minutes. Marga Gomez has been doing it for a long time and has a lot of fans, as the packed house at her 12th solo show Latin Standards, proves. Part of The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival, Latin Standards is billed as a “solo play” about “fathers, entertainment, gentrification, drag, and café Cubano.”
As Marga describes herself at the top of the show, she’s Cuban, Puerto Rican, and lesbian, but she’s not into labels. She just wants to let us know in case there were any, you know, tourists, in the audience. In case, you know, maybe Mike Pence was in the audience. She doesn’t want anyone to be shocked when they find out during the show that she’s…wait for it….Latina.
She quickly tells us that this isn’t going to be a show about politics and the creature-elect but this is only her second day out of bed since November 8th. And this is her final farewell concert. Since she might be deported. But no, the real reason this is her final farewell concert is that she thinks she may have peaked in 1997. And then she shows us a clip of her 6 seconds of screen time in the movie “Sphere.”
But warm-up patter aside, the meat of Latin Standards is devoted to Marga’s father Willy Chevalier, a songwriter and comic performer in NYC in the 1950’s and 60’s. He performed with big acts like Tito Puente and Celia Cruz and, interestingly enough, the first famous transgender performer, Christine Jorgenson. Marga uses the lyrics of some of her father’s songs as the framework to tell stories about her father, her childhood, their relationship, the Latino club scene in NYC in its heyday and the parallels between it and the gay Latino club scene in San Francisco during Marga’s years there.
Although Marga claims not to speak Spanish, and not to be able to do a Spanish accent except under the influence of alcohol, her imitations of her father and his Cuban accent sound absolutely perfect to me. However, dressed in a gold lamé suit jacket, black pants, black shirt and shoes with her close cropped thick dark hair, the sturdy Marga looks much more butch than the pictures of her father projected on the screen in back of her. They show a slight man with a long, narrow face and a thin pencil moustache. Always wearing a light-colored suit jacket and slightly receding, slicked-back hair. She alludes several times to the fact that when she was a child she looked just like her father. Without the moustache. The pictures of her mother, Puerto Rican dancer, Margarita Estremera, a.k.a. “Margo the Exotic” look like a typical blond bombshell of the period. So I guess it’s clear that she takes after her father’s side of the family.
While the audience of fans is with her every step of the way, and there’s much to enjoy, the show is a little disjointed. It never quite settles into stand-up or into theater. As a result, it feels a little choppy, as if Marga were feeling her way through it for the first time. I kept thinking that she couldn’t remember what she wanted to say next, which made me a little anxious. I liked it, but I wanted to LOVE it.
Latin Standards Written and performed by Marga Gomez, Directed by David Schweizer
Set design by Caleb Wertenbaker; lighting design by Jimmy Lawler; projection design by Driscoll Otto; stage manager, William Carlton. Additional support for Marga Gomez’s Latin Standards is provided by Howl Arts. The Public Theater, Under The Radar Festival, 425 Lafayette Avenue, through January 15th. Tickets at the box office, or by calling 212-967-7555 or online at undertheradarfestival.com