By Ellie Milewski
Today, theater has grown into an extravagant event. It’s normal to spend hundreds of dollars on tickets, go to a fancy Broadway Theater, and wait after the show by the stage door to get your program signed by a star. While all this is great to be a part of, it’s easy to get lost in the lights, and forget the raw power that theater can have. On Thursday night, with their production of Dancing in My Cockroach Killers, GALA Hispanic Theatre reminded the audience that theater can not only be fun, entertaining, and a great night out, it can also be educational, thought-provoking, and rebellious.
This production of the fiery bilingual musical is the product of collaboration between GALA Hispanic Theatre and Pregones Theatre/PRTT (Puerto Rican Traveling Theater) of New York. Written by the award-winning playwright and published poet Magdalena Gómez, the words spoken in this show are unapologetic. Inspired by personal stories, Latino Icons, and both historical and recent events, Gómez’s writing had the crowd laughing one moment and then struck silent by raw and brutal honesty the next.
Paired with the talents of Composer, Musical Director, and Keyboardist Desmar Guevara, her words were given both powerful and playful melodies to ride. Add to that the direction by Rosalba Rolón, the artistic director of Pregones Theatre/PRTT, and a compelling and energetic ensemble, and it’s easy to see why this musical has people wanting to dance their way to revolution.
From the moment the fun-loving ensemble of six swayed their way onstage, they had the audience clapping and dancing along. With their cries of joy and gyrating hips it was almost impossible not to share in their obvious delight.
The ensemble did a wonderful job of keeping the energy up with numbers like “Soap and Water,” the hilarious opening to act two which told the story of a young boy named Hector, and his childhood musical rebellion against American schools. These lively performers delight in sharing their passion with the audience.
But it wasn’t all fun and games. Dancing in My Cockroach Killers exhibits an intelligent and effective use of juxtaposition between dancing and celebration, and quiet, heart wrenching personal tales of human struggle. Many of these powerful segments were carried by a single ensemble member, sometimes alone on stage.
During the section entitled “Fuego en la Cocina” in the middle of act one, ensemble member Yaremis Félix sat center stage, alone with her wash-bin, walking the audience through a timeline of abuse. In a highlight moment of act two, ensemble member Caridad De La Luz led the number “María,” a powerful and poetic recounting of Hurricane Maria that devastated Puerto Rico in 2017. These striking, informative, and emotional numbers were often followed directly by more dancing and festivity. This beautifully mirrored the messy truth of life: that love, pain, struggle, and celebration are all intertwined.
A major highlight of the show was the wonderful band that played onstage. Desmar Guevara on keyboard, Álvaro Benavides on bass, and Nicky Laboy on percussion were a winning team. Laboy especially was a standout with his captivating drum solo during act one.
The design elements of this show were minimalistic but effective none the less. Lighting Designer Christopher Annas-Lee supported the changing current of the show, using bright colors for the fun dance numbers, followed by single spotlights and even semi-darkness during the quieter moments of the show. The costumes by Harry Nadal were bright, colorful, sassy, and included fun and flashy pairs of cockroach killers that each ensemble member wore as they danced Paulette Beauchamp’s lovely choreography.
Since GALA Hispanic Theatre was founded in 1976, it has striven to spread the richness of Hispanic theater. Dancing in My Cockroach Killers not only achieves this, but it brings important stories of the Puerto Rican experience to our nation’s capital, at a time when these stories need to be told, and more importantly, heard.
This show will allow audience members to celebrate culture, discover stories of struggle, learn about mistakes that have been made, and become inspired to create a better tomorrow. With all the talk of building walls, this show is a refreshing construction of a cultural bridge that encourages understanding and change.
Running Time: One hour and 30 minutes, including one 10-minute intermission.