Photo by Johnny Knight. Playwright: Coya Paz and ensemble. At: Teatro Luna at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago. Phone: 773-878-5862; $15. Runs through: Dec. 16
If Teatro Luna wanted a subtitle for its world premiere of Machos, it could be 'The Cajones Monologues.'
Except for the fact that Machos isn't just a series of monologues on what it means to be a Latino male. Nor is Machos by men for men the way Eve Ensler wrote The Vagina Monologues to rally women for women's causes.
Machos is very much a way for Teatro Luna, Chicago's first all-Latina theater ensemble, to extend an olive branch of understanding to Latino men by finding out their pressures and insecurities in what it means to be a man. But what's even more fun is that Teatro Luna goes about embodying those manly traits themselves—in male drag.
Machos grew out of interviews with more than 100 Latino men nationwide, which were then adapted and repackaged by developer/director Coya Paz and a super-talented Teatro Luna ensemble of eight. Teatro Luna then took that clichéd proverb of 'walking a mile in another man's shoes' to gender-bending heights.
With fake facial hair, bound breasts and extremely convincing male mannerisms, Teatro Luna takes all sorts of joy in playing men riffing on the subjects of penis size, mama's boys, domestic violence, adultery, homophobia, alcohol and exactly what it means to macho.
The ensemble also takes great joy in exploring uniquely male activities—particularly an extended scene where an elder lays down the law for a kid on 'the rules' for peeing at a urinal. And in a nod to Altar Boyz, there is a hilarious parody of boy bands with their ambiguously questionable sexuality sung in song. ( Tamara Roberts is listed in the program as the composer, so if she wrote the song, she's a genius. )
This revue's humor and pathos blend together in Paz's great staging, which flows seamlessly from one topic to the next. Pointing out that much of how we learn to fit society's gender roles is shaped by others, Paz strategically places actors in the scenes watching close by or from a distance.
Since the ensemble constantly switches roles in skilled and affecting performances, you can't just pinpoint one performance over the others. So excuse the laundry list of names since each one of these actors deserves high praise: Desiree Castro, Belinda Cervantes, Maritza Cervantes, Yadira Correa, Gina Cornejo, Ilana Faust, Stephanie Gentry-Fernandez and Wendy Vargas.
Having Latina women so convincingly portraying Latino men in Machos helps break down stereotypes on 'male behavior' and helps you to reexamine exactly why society places those pressures on men. So the next time you catch yourself telling someone to 'be a man,' remember that there isn't just a single way to be one.