*Note: This piece was the final feature I wrote before COVID-19 shut down mass gatherings only two days later. The original run of this show was scheduled for March 13th – 29th. After six months to the day, Gomez will now begin a five week run of the show on Zoom. This story has been updated to reflect the new run dates and times. Her 13th solo show, originally scheduled for the 13th, will re-open on the 13th. Quite fitting.
Playright, performer and comedian Marga Gomez never planned to write a 13th solo show.
No, seriously. That was never the plan.
Gomez is as gregarious as she is busy, constantly moving in and out of different shows, styles and mediums. A short list of her recent work – founder and host of Brava Theater Center’s popular series “Who’s Your Mami Comedy,” a monthly stand up show featuring comedians of all genders taking down the patriarchy one laugh at a time. There’s also been multiple productions of her many hit solo shows such as “Latin Standards,” “Pound,” and a new production of “Translating Selena” with longtime collaborators Sean San Jose of Campo Santo and Culture Clash’s Richard Montoya. She even had a nice long run off-Broadway this past November, performing in a fantastic production of “Dr. Ride’s American Beach House” at Ars Nova in Greenwich Village.
But back to this 13th show. All was smooth sailing for Gomez as she kept busy, performing, creating, making it happen.
And then came the email.
Gomez’ newest show has forced her to break out of her superstitious nature, writing that 13th solo play. “Spanking Machine,” is a bit of a departure from previous shows that featured sharp humor and riotous comedy. The piece is very meta-theatrical while still showcasing Gomez’ comedy chops. It’s a deeper reflection of her past, moments brought up through a special, lifelong connection.
The show runs at Brava Theater Center through March 29th before heading to Dixon Place in New York City’s lower east side this July for the world premiere. The show will run on Zoom every Sunday for five weeks at 5 pm beginning Sept. 13. (Note – the show kept its Dixon Place run and then did one performance at the San Diego Rep Latinx New Play Festival in August, both on Zoom.)
The title is a reference to the old days of private, Catholic school, when corporal punishment was the norm for discipline, the ultra-strict nuns dishing out whacks in the name of Jesus. The spanking machine was never actually seen by anyone, but took on a life of its own, a legend that led to anxiety among the young charges.
Gomez, raised by a Cuban father and Puerto Rican mother, grew up in upper-Manhattan’s Washington Heights and attended Catholic school with a boy named Agamemnon, who later changed his name to Scotty for one reason – Agamemnon sounded way too Cuban.
After more than 40 years, Scotty sent Gomez an email.
“I adored Scotty for many years as we grew up,” said Gomez. “We were both Cuban and were both closeted gays. He emailed me out of the blue which led me to visit him in Miami. It was crazy to visit someone who knew me back then.”
Scotty is someone she describes in a press release as “the first boy she ever sloppy-kissed and how it made them gay forever.” Their reflections dove into the trauma which comes from suffocating oneself, as well as memories of sadistic nuns, childhood hijinks, fear, assault and suppressed memory.
“The reunion was kind of complicated and forced me to look at other things in my life, growing up female in a hostile culture,” said Gomez. “Although the show is a comedy, it doesn’t shy away from real shit.”
Gomez has always explored the truths of life in her works. Her first critically acclaimed play, “Memory Tricks,” examined her complicated upbringing by her performer parents. Her humor and ability to create laughs comes from a rich and organic place within.
Once she realized how much this meeting and Scotty meant to her, she had no choice but to pen a play. The new piece led to a commission with Syracuse Stage, where she participated in the 2019 Cold Read Festival.
At that point, play number 13 was on.
“I went to Miami just to hear stories, whatever he remembers, and then it turned to something else,” said Gomez. “I had one motive when I went and that was just to see him because he meant so much to me.
“I just said to myself that I was going to do it, and I didn’t know if it was something I wanted to continue doing. When the response came from the audience in Syracuse, I felt I had to keep developing this show.”
Gomez is aware that there might be folks who consider her a navel gazer. But she is unapologetic about that, because she knows who she is and how to express herself. Opening herself up for public consumption is what makes her Marga Gomez – solo performer, comedian, pioneer and a revered member of the LGBTQIA community.
“I’ve probably been criticized for talking about myself too much, but that’s what I do and that’s what I like when I see shows. I want to know who the performer is, how they got there, what scares them to succeed and how they’ve failed.
“One thing I tell people is that I’m going to be real. It’s the world we live in, and I don’t have time to be shallow.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Brava Theater Center presents “Spanking Machine”
Written and performed by Marga Gomez
Directed by Adrian Alexender Alea
March 13th – 29th
Sunday, Sept. 13, 20, 27, Oct. 4, 11
Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission
Tickets range from $10 – $50
For tickets, visit brava.org