Advertisement

A Latinx playwright hopes he never has to write another play like ‘The Play You Want’

A man peers over the shoulder of a younger man who is holding his hand over his own chest.
Stewart J. Zully and Peter Pasco star in the Road Theatre Company’s world-premiere production of “The Play You Want” by Bernardo Cubría.
(Elizabeth Kimball)
Share via

The protagonist of “The Play You Want,” premiering March 11 at the Road Theatre in North Hollywood, is a Mexican playwright named Bernardo Cubría, played by Peter Pasco. Weary from constant rejections, he sarcastically pitches a play about drug dealers on Día de los Muertos called “Nar-cocos.” To Cubría’s surprise, the play is picked up.

A hesitant Cubría eventually agrees to have the play produced, due to mounting financial pressures. He gradually becomes enamored with the attention he begins receiving from the play, as well as his rising trajectory as a playwright — despite the content of “Nar-cocos.”

The real playwright behind “The Play You Want,” also named Bernardo Cubría, shares a similar history of rejection with his onstage counterpart — hence the meta subject matter.

Advertisement

In late 2019, Cubría received a rejection from a Latinx theater festival. The reasoning? His play, an existentialist endeavor exploring “how communities can be [their] own worst enemies” through the perspective of crabs living in a bucket (aptly titled “Crabs in a Bucket”), didn’t feature any “Latinx themes,” according to the rejection letter. He was devastated. “I was shocked at how upset I was,” Cubría recalls. “But I was really sad more than anything because I thought, ‘I’m Mexican, so doesn’t that make anything I write Latinx?’”

While Cubría has had his plays produced in small theaters, he says he has faced adversity in trying to get a yes from bigger “establishment theaters.” After being rejected by the Latinx theater festival, something shifted within Cubría; he viewed it as “the last straw,” because it had come from the Latinx community. That same night, Cubría sat down at his computer. “Around 10 p.m., my wife and son were asleep and I opened a bottle of tequila and I started typing,” he says. “And around 4 a.m. I had the first draft of this play.”

Cubría initially thought of “The Play You Want” less like a stage play and more as a cathartic diary entry. It’s starkly different from what he usually writes, with most of his plays — including “The Giant Void in My Soul” and “The Judgment of Fools” — circling existentialist themes. This new work represents a leap for the playwright. “It still frightens me to death, this play, because it is very, very personal,” he says. “But all the writers I love say to write what scares you, so I thought, OK, I’m going to do that now.”

The main character wasn’t always named Bernardo Cubría. In its original iteration, his name was Lucas. “The person I believe I’m making fun of the most in this play is me,” explains Cubría. “I wanted to take myself head on and satirize myself for not just being OK with just the validation of my wonderful wife and beautiful son, and [instead] seeking this external validation from these people who see Mexicans as two-dimensional. And there’s something really funny and painful about that.”

Cubría is not the only character in the play who shares a name with a real person — in “The Play You Want,” the protagonist finds himself offered a Broadway run by none other than Scott Rudin, the powerful film and theater producer accused of abusive behavior by former staff members last year. Cubría says he wrote Rudin into the play before the allegations were made public.

“I had heard stories in the theater world about Scott Rudin and the way he treated people,” he says. “But to be honest, it’s not about him. It’s about the machine of Broadway and the things that they ask writers of color to do to be accepted by a larger audience.”

Considering Cubría’s history of difficulty finding homes for his plays, he was surprised when the Road Theatre was immediately interested. “I didn’t know that the Road would be interested in that because it’s not a company that is run by Latinx people, but they loved it from the beginning,” he says. “It has been really amazing to see how supportive they’ve been, especially because the play takes on a lot of the establishment of the theater.”

Advertisement

Taylor Gilbert, the founder and co-artistic director of the Road Theatre Company, says she was taken with how the story “cuts to the quick of relevant issues with humor and heart.”

Cubría says the American theater still expects only “issue plays” from writers of color, such as his play-within-a-play, “Nar-cocos.” With “The Play You Want,” he hopes to compel audience members to think about why Mexican writers often are encouraged to write about their “pain and suffering” instead of penning stories about everyday life, or anything else an artist of color wants to tackle through their work. “It’s so painful to us that [our suffering] is the only part of our existence that people want to hear about. I’m exhausted by it,” says Cubría. “Especially now as a father, I want my son to have content that is about our people but is about us just being kids, or parents, or lovers, or best friends.”

Despite being proud of what he’s accomplished with “The Play You Want,” Cubría describes it as a “necessary evil” — a step he needed to take to move forward as a playwright, even though it’s completely different from what he would like to be writing. “I have mixed feelings about this play because I like it, and I think it’s really funny, but I also think it proves the point of the play in that this is the play that has gotten awards and attention because it is an issue play,” Cubría says. “I hope that I never choose to write another play like this again.”

________________

'The Play You Want'

Where: The Road Theatre, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; through April 17

Tickets: $39

Info: (818) 761-8838 or roadtheatre.org

Advertisement