Hyde Park Theatre's Confessions of a Mexpatriate
Raul Garza's solo show tells us that finding your true self in another country isn't easy
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Sept. 28, 2018
Samuel has his feet in two worlds. One might be said to be the future (his job with tech startup KliKorps is all very next wave, very shape of things to come) and the other the past (the tropical hot spot he escapes to really has its laid-back, way-back-when vibe working). But in a more straight-up geographical sense, those worlds are the United States and Mexico. The former is the home where Samuel lives and works and is so attuned to the culture, but the latter is the home of his blood, his people, his heritage, and when his first world starts threatening to fall apart – work crises make it appear he has no future in the future – the other world calls to him. So he goes there, seeking to find his "cultura groove" and his more authentic self. Samuel's account of what happens to him in both worlds is told to the audience as if we were guests in his home, sitting across from him in his big leather armchair.
And through this setup, it becomes clear that there's a reason writer Raul Garza has titled his play Confessions of a Mexpatriate. This isn't a jolly host regaling friends with uproarious yarns of his south-of-the-border vacay (or about his job going south). It's a guy opening up about how lost he was and how he left for another country on a desperate search to find himself, along the way owning up to his pride, his envy, his self-centeredness, his doubts – all of his insecurities and flaws and weaknesses. This is Samuel coming clean about himself in order to move forward with his life, to make sure which world he belongs in.
It's tricky for Samuel because he's a divided man: split by the hyphen in Mexican-American. He may have been born American, but to many here, he'll always be seen as Mexican (and part of him likes and plays into that). And yet actually being in Mexico just brings out all the American in him. Garza heightens our sense of his division by having Samuel toggle back and forth between his Austin work drama and his Oaxaca getaway. Here, he's an outsider because he isn't pulling his weight on the job or in his love life, both of which involve the sharp, ambitious Juliana. In Mexico, he's an outsider because he isn't at ease with the people or its customs and can't let go of his gringo attitudes. Garza mines this element for humor with Samuel's snarky rants on, say, the flimsiness of Toms shoes and trendier-than-thou travelers who give him "American Hipster Traumatic Stress Syndrome." But the playwright also makes it a source of the character's humanity, revealing Samuel's deep yearning to connect with Mexicans he encounters: the owner of a New York-style deli in Oaxaca, a taxi driver, a woman he spies praying in a cathedral. He's become so numb to feeling in his other world that he sees this world as perhaps his last chance to experience joy or love.
Garza is fortunate to have an actor of Mical Trejo's skills to embody Samuel. Trejo has the comedic chops to give full vent to a hypercritical broadside on the chichi substitution of "house-made" for "homemade" and land the laughs without coming off as a jerk. He's also an actor with a natural affability, which can help defuse some of the explosive qualities of characters he plays, as he demonstrated recently in the Ground Floor Theatre premiere of another Garza play, There and Back. As he also showed in that production, he's able to tap into a character's needs and vulnerabilities to get you feeling the turmoil inside him. And every step of the way here, no matter which world Samuel is in, Trejo makes his loneliness palpable.
Ken Webster, who directed Trejo in the world premiere of this play for Teatro Vivo five years ago, revives it here with his own company, Hyde Park Theatre. The closeness of HPT's space makes it a good fit for a show that takes such a personal approach, though the wall that set designer Mark Pickell has created to represent the Mexico side of Samuel's journey is so large and imposing that it feels out of scale. Still, Trejo's performance and Webster's clean staging help the show retain its intimacy. We're listening to a man who may have lost his connection to other people, but he's made a connection to us.
Confessions of a MexpatriateHyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, 512/479-7529
Through Oct. 20
Running time: 1 hr., 15 min.