Young Chuy is a dreamy, hyper-creative son of hardworking Mexicanos, whose fervent fantasy is to transmogrify into the tiara-wearing, waving, and weeping winner of the Miss America pageant. He lives with loving (if occasionally baffled) sister Rosa, whose pink bedroom is the feminine backdrop for Chuy’s imaginings, angry brother Bobby, who fears for his brother and is embarrassed by him, best friend/“fag hag” Sabina, supportive Tía Panchita, and a glamorous alter ego/fairy godmother who guides the young artista through the inevitable pains and profound delights of being young, talented, queer, Mexicano(/a), and determined to be exactly himself, damn the consequences.
The Esperanza’s production of Jesús Alonzo’s Miss America: a Mexicanito Fairy’s Tale is the second theatrical outing for the playwright, whose Jotos del Barrio animated Esperanza’s stage in 2002 with the same leading lady, Erica Andrews (née Salazar), who plays the Fairy Godmother this time around.
It’s testament to the profound changes of our times and, more importantly, the great necessity of change, that this coming-out-and-of-age story, con variaciones, has itself become a pageant almost as timeworn and familiar as Miss America herself. Here’s the text from the Esperanza flyer: “Chuy journeys to new realizations of his gender, race and class, and how these aspects of his identidad will shape and be shaped by his rose colored dreams.”
Miss America follows a vanguard of creative work in this gender-fluid LGBT vein — which brings those most marginalized, even within Queer culture, to the forefront. Indispensable entries in the narrative canon include John Cameron Mitchell’s incendiary musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Pedro Almodóvar’s lyrically mind-expanding films All About My Mother and Bad Education, and San Antonian Paul Bonin-Rodriguez’s trilogy of plays, including Higher Planes.
The work to which Miss America: A Mexicanito Fairy’s Tale is most easily comparable, though, is Alain Berliner’s heartbreaking and deeply sensitive 1997 film Ma Vie en Rose, in which a young boy named Ludovic makes his LGBT status a matter of affecting childhood existentialism, wondering aloud to his worried mom, to his supportively fabulous and chic grandmama, and to his sympathetic older sister whether God hasn’t accidentally lost his Y chromosome. And Ma Vie en Rose’s Ludovic, like Miss America’s Chuy, takes refuge in an absorbing pink fantasy world helmed by a fabulous angel-queen — in Ludovic’s case an aspirational Barbie-like figure.
Unfortunately, having re-watched Berliner’s film again recently, Miss America’s script suffered by comparison, being neither as bracingly original, as powerfully gestural (Miss America has a tendency to spell everything out, albeit charmingly, in English y español), nor as well-stocked with complex characters. But, to be absolutely fair, reading the text of a play is a far different experience than watching the nuances and interpretations of actors against a well-designed set and stage direction. One hopes that the performances of the gorgeous Erica Andrews, as well as Jaime Gonzalez, Manuel Barraza, and Jesús Alonzo himself will be as deeply fun and emotionally satisfying as the advance promotional materials promise.
The travails and iconography of young LGBT Latinos are keenly important because gay and transgendered people of color are indeed vulnerable to the worst of society’s bullying and injustice, from homophobia to misogyny to xenophobia and racism, to outright vicious violence. In the face of these terrifying obstacles, making art about the LGBT Chicano experience is necessary, and incredibly brave. Such necessity requires art of the highest caliber; excellence, after all, is a weapon. Whether Miss America: A Mexicanito Fairy’s Tale succeeds as a piece of writing is debatable. But that it suffices as an evening’s (or five evenings’) enjoyment is at least likely. Go for the Saturday-night gala, $35 with drag show — it’s an excellent cause.
Miss America: A Mexicanito Fairy’s Tale
Jun 19-Jul 3
$10; $35 gala Jun 20
Esperanza Peace and Justice Center