Meet Juan(ito) Doe chronicles the lives and loves of Chicago Mexican-Americans | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Meet Juan(ito) Doe chronicles the lives and loves of Chicago Mexican-Americans

Playwright Ricardo Gamboa and the cast have created interesting, flawed human beings.


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First produced last fall at the Free Street Storyfront space in Back of the Yards, this remarkable revival chronicles, in a series of short, sweet scenes and heartfelt monologues, the loves and likes of various Chicago Chicanos: an uncloseted gay man who defies his father's homophobia, a daring tagger yearning for his place in history, a teenager at once amused and appalled by the preparations for her quinceañera (the most humiliating moment must be when her abuela insists she enhance the bustline of her dress with Perdue frozen chicken breast fillets), and a late-middle-aged father coping with alcoholism and anger issues.

In less capable hands these characters could have become mere cartoons or, worse, romanticized agitprop characters, but native south-sider Ricardo Gamboa, who wrote the show and codirected it with Ana Velazquez, has the clear eye of a gifted comic writer. Given the chance, Gamboa prefers to create interesting, flawed human beings who make us cringe one minute and win us over the next, only to make us cringe again. (This will come as no surprise to fans of Gamboa's witty webseries Brujos.) The intimacy of the performing space certainly helps, but only because the show's six-member ensemble, all of but one of whom appeared in the 2017 version, know how to play to an audience only a few feet—or in some scenes, a few inches—away. Keren Díaz de León and Elizabeth Nungaray are particularly adept at communicating volumes with small gestures or slight changes of expression.   v

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