The comic book play looks at the societal expectations of Latino cultural identity through superhero fantasy and lots of comedy.
For Latinos, cultural identity can be a minefield. They can gain or lose jobs for being deemed “too Latino” or not Latino enough.
The comic book play “El Coquí Espectacular and the Bottle of Doom” examines these societal expectations and turns them on their head with some superhero fantasy and lots of comedy.
In “El Coquí,” a Nuyorican comic book artist struggles with claims that his work is “too Puerto Rican,” while his brother, a marketing exec, is fired for the opposite.
The pair grapples with these pressures from Latinos and non-Latinos alike by creating a real-life superhero that they plan to unveil at the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
“Coquí” playwright Matthew Barbot says the script took about seven years to write and was his first work to address issues of ethnicity and identity.
“There’s a space between Garcia Lorca’s poetry and ‘Down These Mean Streets’ by Piri Thomas that I think a lot of Latinos in the U.S., especially now, are living in,” he says.
Like Coquí’s main characters, Barbot tries to shake off notions of Latino-ness — including in theater.
“I do sometimes wonder when there’s a call for work from Latino playwrights, if they’re looking for a specific kind of play about specific issues — about drugs and jail, immigration, sadness; or alternately, about the magical abuela who has her native magic.
“We’re second or third generation at this point,” the 27-year-old, Park Slope native continues.
“Our parents are often better off than theirs were. We’re no longer living in depressed areas — and even those who do, have more diverse stories to tell.”
“El Coqui” was a finalist in last fall’s emerging playwrights competition at Repertorio Español.
It opens as part of Brick Theater’s comic book festival on June 5 — the weekend of this year’s Puerto Rican Day Parade.