la esquinita usa

ruben c. gonzalez stars in the one-man show "la esquinita, usa."(p o: tim fuller)

this risk of writing a topical play is that it will soon be rendered obsolete by the latest headlines. but if anything, rubén c. gonzález’s one-man show “la esquinita, usa” is even more relevant now than when it premiered in 2010.

gonzález portrays 10 different characters in a fictional border town where the top employer has moved its tire factory to china, leaving behind an impoverished community trying to pick up the pieces of the american dream. the writer-performer created the piece for el teatro pesino in los angeles and has since performed it across the country, with an upcoming run at the herberger theater center in phoenix as part of arizona theatre company’s 2016-17 season.

arizona theatre company: ‘la esquinita, usa’

when: thursday, feb. 9, through sunday, feb. 26.

where: herberger theater center, 222 e. monroe st., phoenix.

admission: $30-$75.

details: 602-256-6995, arizonatheatre.org.

“in this specific show, it’s a black and brown community,” gonzález says. but really, he adds, “it’s anywhere, usa.

“i just read a book called ‘hillbilly elegy’ (by j.d. vance), and when i read that, i was like, this is ‘la esquinita.’ but it’s from the perspective of a white guy who grew up in appalachia.

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“this show can be done in rural ohio, kentucky, and it would still resonate just as well. any town that has experienced a lack of work and the breakdown of social service. it could be where the auto industry was in detroit or coal mines that have shut down.”

jobs lost to free-trade globalism, of course, were a huge issue in the 2016 presidential paign that may have pushed working-cl white voters toward donald trump. that economic distress also fueled anti-immigration rhetoric that sometimes crosses the line into outright racism.

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“it puts us in a place where we start pointing fingers at the other one, and we try to find the differences, and that’s what separates us, as opposed to the things that unite us,” gonzález says. “and it’s playing out right now in society.”

“la esquinita” — which means “the corner” — focuses on the relationship between lencho, a wise old custodian, and a young man named daniel, who was inspired by a teenager that gonzález e to know while teaching at-risk students in southern california.

as he struggles to find his place in the world, daniel is forced to confront his own perceptions of race in a community that is becoming more divided along color lines — not between whites and minorities, but between “black and brown.”

the play also contends with the characters’ expectations of masculinity, an issue that gonzález says emerged in the cl room when he was teaching about athens and sparta in ancient greece.

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“the kids, of course, wanted to be very macho, so they all wanted to be spartans, as opposed to thinkers,” he says. “and that’s one of the themes in the show. in this world we celebrate the spartan in men, and we don’t really think about us as thinkers or as people with feelings, what i guess we would call a more feminine energy.”

the subtext is definitely political — in 2017, is there anything that isn’t? — but gonzález says he isn’t driving a partisan message.

“i’m not directly saying it, but you see how if you make corporations people, and they have these certain rights, and then we choose profit over people, then you’re going to get what you see right now in the world, this desperation and anger that a lot of people are feeling. so yeah, it is a social-political type of play, but i’m not preaching to anybody. i’m not telling you what you should think. i’m just showing you the results of these decisions and how it affects the communities that some people live in.

“this is a human story. these are real people with real struggles, and a lot of time we don’t get to see that. we see the pollyanna-ish version where everything is tied up nicely at the end.”

reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-4896. follow him at facebook.com/lengelontheater and twitter.com/kerrylengel.

arizona theatre company: ‘la esquinita, usa’

when: thursday, feb. 9, through sunday, feb. 26.

where: herberger theater center, 222 e. monroe st., phoenix.

admission: $30-$75.

details: 602-256-6995, arizonatheatre.org.

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