In their most recent study released on Dec. 9th, the non-partisan think tank known as the Economic Policy Institute shared a report that 3.2 million manufacturing jobs were lost in the United States from 2001 to 2013, with about 415,000 of those jobs connected to Wal-Mart. Choosing to manufacture their product through China is devastating to the American worker, with factories closing all over the country, decimating the economy of towns big and small.
The wise, omniscient and fictional custodian Lencho has seen it all and can relate to what is happening now, experiencing the pain and anguish in the town of Esquinita, one of those sleepy, laconic towns found in valleys and heartlands all over the United States. Esquinita used to be the home to the Thompson Tire Factory, but unfortunately for its citizens, many of whom came to the town for these jobs specifically, the factory has found new, cheaper digs in China.
This turn of fate certainly devastates the town’s economic infrastructure. This factory might even be compared to a Trojan Horse, hollow and empty, a building that now represents despair and devastation.
Lencho is just one of 10 characters from the mind of Ruben Gonzalez, a longtime actor and playwright who premiered his one-man show “La Esquinita, USA” back in April of 2010. Produced by San Juan Bautista’s El Teatro Campesino,” founded by Luis Valdez, the play has had much success for Gonzalez and his collaborator, director Kinan Valdez, who has been with the piece since day one.
“La Esquinita, USA” is moving on to New York City for a weekend, the first time Teatro Campesino has been in the Big Apple in 30 years. Teatro is celebrating an important birthday, it’s 50th, and will be performing at the now merged Pregones Theater and Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in Manhattan.
In the five years since the piece premiered in San Juan Bautista, Gonzalez has done some growing of his own. Now married with two boys, age seven and two, home life has allowed him to see his piece in a way he was never able to before.
“On my end it is very personal and I see it with fresh eyes,” said Gonzalez. “I know how to perform it better and I’m more grounded. A friend of mine who saw it said ‘I can tell you’re a dad now.’ There’s a maturity to me the way I do the show because I’ve done it before.
“Before, when I did the show, my body was still learning how to move in these characters, and the writer was still involved. Now, the writer is the performer and that’s the way it has evolved.”
As the director, Valdez has helped shape the piece, and noted that in order to tighten things up, it was decided that the intermission should be removed. That decision contributes to a sharper flow, the show now running at a tight, 75-minute clip.
For Valdez, the fact that the play is still as relevant since its premiere almost six years ago is unfortunate.
“It’s so timely because the piece is about trying to develop a sense of connectivity as human beings,” said Valdez. “There are definitely young people struggling but they continue to plant seeds of hope.”
One of those young people depicted in the play is Daniel, a young man battling drug abuse and involved in a relationship not acceptable in society. Gonzalez has always found that the character resonates deeply with audiences, especially kids growing up in the inner cities who have had the opportunity to watch the play.
“I did the show at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, and a girl came up to me after and said, ‘My boyfriend is Daniel, you should go talk to him, he needs a talking to,’” said Gonzalez. “There’s a lot of pushing and pulling that Daniel has to go to and he walks a fine line. How does he get past that?”
The piece that’s taking root in New York City is significant socio-economically. New York City is by no means a small town, but business owners that have been the hallmark of New York’s independent spirit are under constant threat.
“The manufacturing base in the city has dropped off, and community members are fighting to keep their little esquinita alive,” said Valdez.
Gonzalez has seen plenty in his lengthy career, has been on independent and major studio movie sets, but his resolve is shaped squarely on the age old theatrical conventions of storytelling and art.
“It’s important to know that to be an artist, you don’t have to be recognized, and it’s just as worthy,” said Gonzalez. “You’re working with people you affect, and that’s kinda cool.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
El Teatro Campesino presents “La Esquinita, USA”
Written and performed by Ruben Gonzalez
Directed by Kinan Valdez
Dec. 11th and 12th at 8 pm
Dec. 13th at 3 pm
Performed as part of the Plataforma Project
The Pregones Theater Puerto Rican Traveling Theater
304 West 47th Street
New York, NY 10036
Tickets priced at $15
For tickets and information, call (718) 585-1202 or visit the show’s website