Drama fans likely recognize José Rivera as the writer who penned the screenplay for The Motorcycle Diaries—the award-winning film about revolutionary Che´ Guevara’s early life. That film earned Rivera the distinction in 2005 as the first Puerto Rican to be nominated for an Oscar, although his playwriting career began more than two decades earlier and encompasses more then a dozen stage productions.
For local stage troupe Scapegoat Theatre Collective, it’s Rivera’s pithy, emotive material that makes for the perfect addition to their off-the-beaten-path repertoire.
“With each of our shows we try to choose scripts that might not get done on a main stage,” Director Hope Spragg tells Xpress. “We try to put on socially relevant theater.”
Rivera’s provocatively titled 2000 script, References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot, caught the eye of Scapegoat board members and was ultimately selected for inclusion in the Catalyst Series at the North Carolina Stage Company. Beyond the play’s name, “it’s loaded with interesting discussions,” Spragg notes. For instance, Gabriella, the main character, has a conversation with the moon while alone in the desert awaiting her husband’s return from the Gulf War. There’s also a subplot that Spragg describes as “a cat and coyote that have a very sexually charged conversation about domesticity versus wild, reckless abandon.”
All of these elements—the surreal juxtaposed with the ravages of military conflict—result in something both magical and heartbreaking. TheaterMania.com synopsizes the reunion of Gabriel and her soldier husband: “When he arrives, broken and distant, the reality of their relationship seems as strange as the apparitions in the desert night.”
This blend of beauty, pain and the proximity of battle leads Spragg to declare References a play for “all of us.” For Scapegoat, this is a bit of a leap. The self-styled underdog of local theater companies generally uses the spotlight to illuminate the plights of the needy or underserved within the local community. The group’s Web site says, “We believe that theatre can touch people’s lives, encourage political discussion and motivate social change.”
Past performances include Take Me Out (about a gay baseball player) and Everything in the Garden (about the American dream’s dark underbelly). But there’s more to this performance troupe than edgy works alone.
“We also try to raise money [for causes],” the director notes. “Last year, we raised funds for Western North Carolina Aids Project and Loving Food Resources. With the play The Exonerated, we tried to make that educational about the death penalty system in the United States.”
Fundraising and education are two parts of Scapegoat’s outreach method; the third area of outreach is an effort to attract audiences who wouldn’t normally visit a theater—at least not one without surround sound.
“We make roles available to actors of color,” Spragg says; hence the attraction to Rivera’s Latin-centric References. But the show’s director is careful to point out that while area Latinos will enjoy References, the play’s main thrust is about the internal effects of war.
Though Spragg admits that by reaching out to underserved groups, Scapegoat occasionally loses a portion of the theater-going crowd—those who enjoy musicals, comedies and standard fare—the theater company has no plans to switch tactics.
“When you see References, it’s a very intimate play,” Spragg boasts. “We had a cast who basically met at the first reading, and we’ve come a long way. Anyone who’s done a play knows that you create an instant microcosm of friends.”
And, at the end of the day, virtue is its own reward.
who: Scapegoat Theatre Collective
what: Presents José Rivera’s References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot
where: NC Stage
when: Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 10-19 (7:30 p.m. Pay-what-you-can night is Thursday, Jan. 10, with a $6 minimum; $15 all other shows. 350-9090)