american (tele)visions
Raúl Castillo, Clew, Bianca “b” Norwood and Elia Monte-Brown in ‘american (tele)visions.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

Welcome to Curtain Call, our mostly queer take on the latest openings on Broadway and beyond.

The Rundown:

What would happen if WandaVision and Everything Everywhere All At Once converged? It would be a force to be reckoned with. Similar themes appear in the riveting Off-Broadway premiere of american (tele)visions at New York Theatre Workshop. 

Through the story of an undocumented Mexican family, nonbinary Poz Queer Indigenous Mexican playwright Victor I. Cazares and director Rúben Polendo highlight how the American Dream becomes a distorted nightmare. Through the innovative use of scenic design, projections, and live video feed, american (tele)visions transports audiences into a ‘90s United States where fantasy and reality blur and capitalism guides, provides, and decides who dies. 

No Tea, No Shade:

american (tele)visions
(l to r) Clew and Raúl Castillo in ‘american (tele)visions.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

The journey to bring american (tele)visions to life was 15 years in the making. In 2007, Cazares visited New York City‘s MoMA PS 1 and was captivated by a carpet taken from a mobile home, similar to the one they grew up in. That fateful day inspired Cazares to write the first draft of american (tele)visions, which was then brought to life by the New York Theatre Workshop and Theater Mitu. 

Related: Victor I. Cazares on queering theater, one retro video game at a time

Cazares’s play engages audiences through the medium of TV and video games to tell the story of an immigrant family: parents Maria Ximena (Elia Monte-Brown) and Octavio (Raúl Castillo), children Erica (Bianca “b” Norwood) and Alejandro (Chew, who also plays Alejandro’s lover Jesse), and Erica’s childhood friend Jeremy (Ryan J. Haddad). Collectively, they act as conduits for the memories and life experiences as they explore gender, sexuality, immigration, mental health, love, and family bonds.

While american (tele)visions tells the tale of an undocumented Mexican family, it also dismantles how the American Dream is rooted within and fueled by capitalism. It becomes an omnipresent force that each character wrestles with in their own way, giving in to and fighting overconsumption and overproduction. 

Ultimately, the dream of a better life is turned on its head as each character’s story unfolds. Jesse and Alejandro work in a fence production factory, which becomes a powerful metaphor. “we made chain linked fences,” says Jesse. “to keep us out. to keep us in.”

Related: A first lady fever dream scorches the stage at Chicago’s Steppenwolf

Let’s Have a Moment:

american (tele)visions
Elia Monte-Brown, top, and Bianca “b” Norwood in ‘american (tele)visions.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

The production team, including technology design by Kelly Colburn, Alex Hawthorn, and Justin Nestor, and specialty costumes by Mondo Guerra (of Project Runway fame), turns this ‘90s fever dream into reality. But it is Monte-Brown’s captivating performance as Maria Ximena — a mother and wife seeking a way out of her own American nightmare who falls deeper into a distorted reality — that connects the play’s technology with a palpable emotional momentum.

Dressed in a curvaceous cacophony of UPC barcodes and sales tags as “Wal-Martina,” she recounts after the border crossing, having to steal medicine to save Erica’s life. Unable to read the label, she relies on a stranger’s help, but the weight of parenthood in this new reality is too great. She says on video:

“Love things that are replaceable. Easy to find, Erica:
On shelves, on racks, and display tables—things clearly visible
under fluorescent electric lights—constant illumination,
constant buzz, constant restocking.
A fountain of ever present consummation.”

The Last Word:

American (tele)visions creatively highlights the untold stories of Brown folks, immigrants, and LGBTQ people through a lens of media, consumerism, and gaming. “It’s so exciting to have made something that people respond to because they’ve also analyzed videos. And experienced them as a way of escape but also as identity formation,” Cazares told INTO. “Because when we escape from our realities is when we’re forming identities.” 

american (tele)visions plays Off-Broadway at New York Theater Workshop through October 16.

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