Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dance to the Music, If You Know It.

Review: Gregg Barrios. I-DJ. East Brunswick NJ: Hansen Publishing Group, 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-60182- 328-1
ISIN: B01958Z1GU

Michael Sedano

Gregg Barrios’ I-DJ requires a lot more information than I can muster, leaving me a clueless reader unless I do a lot of homework to flesh out the playscript. However, even for a high-information reader, I-DJ is the kind of play that must be experienced on a live stage, not on the page. It would be an impressionistic multimedia tour de force, on stage.

Not that reading I-DJ isn’t a rare pleasure; it is.

Barrios weaves a compelling story across two acts of two scenes each. Chicanidad blends with Hollywood glitter blends with gay lifestyles entangling Warren, the central character in Shakespeare and Shakesqueer, porn, murder, AIDS, the street, rape, sex shows, drugs, hip-hop, disco balls, laser beam light shows, and looking back not with anger but a survivor’s relief.

Reading I-DJ makes me grateful for Google music because, although it’s a lot of work to find it, the music is an essential element to the drama. As Warren announces early in the first scene, “A&M Records –was—IS the fucking soundtrack of my LIFE!”

And the play’s the thing wherein to capture the tenor of Warren’s extended monologues reflecting on his career as actor, artist, and joto, while informing one’s appreciation, or training one’s ear, to the discography of a record label.

Unless the editor missed a typo twice, the play’s second character, DJ, opens the play signing—not singing—a variation on a lyric in the song “God Is A DJ.” DJ plays much of the time in silhouetted miming synchronized with Warren’s speeches. DJ cues vinyl on turntables, flashes album covers, does assorted business. DJ comes into voice now and again speaking counterpoint to Warren’s moods, and as a third character, DJ Mutant. Essentially, I-DJ is a one-man tour de force.

The drama opens with 40 year-old Warren Peace, born Amado Guerrero Paz, reminiscing, celebrating the pinnacle of his life’s journey: landing a role in Ham-a-lot, a gay version of Hamlet. It’s a triumphant moment after a lifetime of some very hard knocks.

Warren relates how he, a Whittier native, finds a niche in glitter Hollywood, how he settles into a career as a personality, an actor whose “day job” is midnight shift disc jockey at the Pair-a-Dice Ballroom, a Hollywood dance club.

The putative hiatus to play the Ham-a-lot role leads Warren to find a replacement DJ. This is the twentysomething character, DJ Silence. Warren challenges DJ to spin music only from the A&M catalog to accompany Warren’s memories; if so, DJ will get a big break, fill-in DJ during Warren’s absence to play Shakesqueer.

The Ham-a-lot role is an elaborate set-up to the history Warren rolls out, from little boy, muy joto his familia says, and loved by a mother and father, and mentored by a colorful aunt, to child actor, to teen hustler, to committed partner, to entrepreneur, to bereaved lover, to top-notch DJ and narrator of his story.

Barrios drops a lot of names, from Terrence McNally to Peter Frampton to a one-and-a-two aging teevee bandleader, to Veronica Lake, as well as performers like Chris Montez, the Carpenters, Cat Stevens. Herb Alpert makes a cameo when the young Warren explains his fascination with A&M music begins when the boy mistakes the Armenian musician for a Mexican hunk pressing his first albums in Warren’s tío’s garage. The error nonetheless gives the young Chicano a sense of hope and identity.

Readers who know the music will find I-DJ a fulfilling read. Folks like me, ignorant of most of the music except hits like “Lonely Bull” or the “Whipped Cream” album from the 60s, will have to do a lot of work to keep up with the fast-paced developments and constantly cued-up sounds.

The two-actor drama requires strong actors to fill the roles. Warren dominates the talking roles, the play is one extended monolog after another. For the DJ role, a patient young man content to play against a dominant central actor.

While the playscript has a 2016 copyright, the play has been produced at least twice. In San Antonio in 2012, Rick Sanchez played DJ Warren Peace and Dominique J. Tijerina DJ Silence / DJ Mutant. In 2014, the play was part of a NY festival, with Sanchez reprising the DJ role and Hunter Wulff carrying the subordinate roles. In April, Barrios and I-DJ were featured at the San Antonio Book Festival.

In an email from Gregg Barrios, he mentions a possible California production this Fall. With the play’s visual effects, pop soundtrack, sympathetic character, I-DJ is too large and too big for a 99-seat house, though it has the feel of an intimate small performance space. Given the Hollywood setting and out-of-town production history favored by the Center Theatre Group, I-DJ would look great on the Mark Taper Main Stage, where the related “Angels In America” played an extended run to adoring audiences. A ver.

I-DJ is both a paperback and e-book available through mail-order organs. Ask your local independent bookseller to bring your copy to the shelves. I-DJ is a fast read initially, then readily re-read and re-read to capture the details and assemble the soundtrack to this modern musical treat.

On the Schedule

La Bloga-Tuesday has a rich line-up of reviews and poetry upcoming in the next weeks. A pair of On-line Floricantos will vie for attention in June with reviews extending through July, including The Mexican Flyboy, Black Dove, Escape from Planet Pleasure, Pariahs-Writing Outside the Margins, Maria's Purgatorio, The Sorrows of Young Alfonso, Breaking Ground Anthology of Puerto Rican Women Writers.


Anonymous said...

I'd like to see this play in Califas. It is set in Whittier. My hometown. I saw an early version
with American Me's Danny DeLa Paz playing the lead.

Rigoberto Gonzalez interviewed Barrios about it on NBC News.


Orale, Raza.

Manuel Olivarez c/s

Anonymous said...

Michael, The character is using"sign" language at the beginning of the play.
So no, it is not a typo used twice. I too read the script and the younger DJ's speech
impediment is later explained. Hope that helps.