'Con Mis Manos': Everyone's familia

Misael Martinez's 'Con Mis Manos' takes place in el Valle, and few Latino plays conjure the same sense of place while sensitively portraying a family coping with cancer

'Con Mis Manos': Everyone's familia

Down in the Valley, where Texas suburbia looks more like Mexico than the Mexican side of the border, people say pos instead of pues (a transition that means "well"), simón to mean "right on," and guey interchangeably with dude. English speakers can carry on a full conversation with Spanglish speakers and can certainly comprehend a Chicano play.

Con Mis Manos takes place in el Valle, and while there are plenty of Latino plays, few conjure the same sense of place while painting an observant portrait of a family coping with cancer. The drama follows David as he looks back at his father's way of handling – or not handling – his wife's terminal brain cancer by squandering what little money the family had on barbecues, Christmas in July, and a quinceañera for his 11-year-old daughter, instead of preparing for a funeral. The play takes its title from the father's assertion that "with these hands, your Papi can fix anything." Except cancer.

"All of the characters in the story are either based on one person or a composite of different people," says Misael Martinez, who wrote Con Mis Manos, "from the sassy, 'tell it like it is' aunt to the well-meaning uncle who cusses five times in one sentence while describing a baby." The play is spoken in English with some Spanish thrown in for flavor, he says, kind of like Texas.

Martinez wrote the play as a class assignment at San Angelo State University, where it was first produced in 2003 and advanced to the regional level of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in 2004. The next year it was picked up by Texas State University – San Marcos, where Will Snider saw it and decided to direct it for Austin's Gobotrick Theatre Company. "There's a big Hispanic community here, and it would be a really good opportunity to showcase Hispanic actors, as well as tell a story that isn't typically told," Snider says. Some proceeds from the Gobotrick run, which opens this week, will go to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. The play is also one of 10 finalists in the MetLife Nuestras Voces National Playwriting Competition this year and will receive a public reading in New York City on Nov. 28.

Martinez believes that the play's themes of love, loss, hope, and family reach past cultural barriers. Snider agrees, noting that he's not Latino or a Spanish-speaker, but even he can understand what these characters are going through. As universal as the play is, however, the pull of the border in it is strong.

"The show ends, and you'll do one of three things," says Martinez. "Call your parents, eat Mexican food, or call your parents and eat Mexican food with them."

Con Mis Manos runs Nov. 9-18, Thursday-Saturday, 7:30pm, at the Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd. For more information, call 708-1893 or visit www.gobotrick.org.

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Con Mis Manos, Misael Martinez, San Angelo State University, Texas State University, Will Snider, Gobotrick Theatre Company, MetLife Nuestras Voces National Playwriting Competition

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