Lower East Side Story
Welcome to Arroyo’s
Teatro Paraguas presents Welcome to Arroyo’s
Back in the day, Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc, Fab 5 Freddy, and The Sugarhill Gang rocked the mics and turntables, scratching and rapping old-school hip-hop — which began in the Bronx in the 1970s — into music history. Out on the streets, graffiti artists were creating the look of hip-hop, with its bold colors and tricky nicknames, though historians agree that it is only in hindsight that graffiti becomes inextricably linked to the emergence of this new sound. In Welcome to Arroyo’s, a play by Kristoffer Diaz, presented by Teatro Paraguas, opening on Friday, April 8, that link is discovered to exist in one person: a young Puerto Rican woman named Reina Ray. All that is known about her is that she was the only female MC on the scene in 1980, and there is a photograph of her in which she is being arrested for graffiti. Welcome to Arroyo’s, directed by Roxanne Tapia, takes place on the Lower East Side, in 2004, decades after Reina Ray disappeared from the hip-hop world. Some say she got pregnant and took off; others speculate she was hit by a train while tagging.
Alejandro Arroyo (Rick Vargas) has turned his recently deceased mother’s bodega into a bar called Arroyo’s. He has no customers. Two DJs, Trip Goldstein (Jonathan Harrell) and Nelson Cardenal (Matthew Montoya), serve as a Greek chorus, who are reminiscent of Heckle and Jeckle. They guide the audience from scene to scene and fill in important background information, all the while insisting to Alejandro that he’d turn a profit if he’d let them spin a few nights a week. Alejandro’s sister, Molly (Alix Hudson), has been getting into trouble for tagging the side of the police station, harangued by the unfortunately named Officer Derek Jeter, a rookie cop who cannot get anyone to take him seriously because he shares a name with a well-known baseball player. Lelly (Cristina Vigil) is a graduate student researching Reina Ray, whom she believes was Alejandro and Molly’s mother. She comes into Arroyo’s to ask Alejandro questions, but she never orders a drink.
It’s a humorous play, anchored by the banter between the DJs, which can move the play back and forth in time. Trip and Nelson are concerned about Alejandro. He lives upstairs from the bar and hasn’t left the building in months. They don’t have many kind words for Lelly, who was born in the neighborhood, grew up in suburbia, and is back to reclaim her heritage through her research. “Skank-ass white girl,” they call her, even though she’s Puerto Rican and Trip is white.
“They are in an alternate theatrical reality, but they’re right there as part of the action,” Montoya told
Pasatiempo. “This play is unlike any I’ve ever been in or heard of. The writing, the music, the references. If ever there were a play for Santa Fe hip-hop-heads to come see, it’s this one.”
“Lelly also has a Greek chorus aspect to her. She breaks the reality of the play a lot of the time,” Vigil said. “She’s the academic thread of the play, though she ends up realizing that academics don’t matter so much. It’s about music and culture, family and community — not so much what she read in a book or her graduate degree. She crashes into Alejandro’s and Molly’s lives and ends up bringing them together.”
Tapia described Molly as an angry artist and said Hudson has been channeling her teen years for the role. “Molly really wants to talk about her mom, but her brother is really resistant, so she’s expressing herself through graffiti,” she explained. “Then there’s this love thing between her and Officer Derek Jeter.”
“Which is precisely the opposite of what Molly wants — to fall in love with an authority figure,” Vigil said.
“There’s this other thread about names,” Tapia added. “Molly is putting her name out there, and Officer Derek has had his name taken away. It’s hard for him to erase her name from the wall because he feels like he lost his identity when Derek Jeter became famous.”
One of the themes of the play is the difference between being an artist and being a servant. Molly sees her mother as a servant, because her life was running a bodega and raising kids. Alejandro is following in her footsteps, but Molly wants to be an artist, free from the burdens of family and the mundane workaday world. But it turns out graffiti might just be in Molly’s blood. If Reina Ray really was her mother, it means she gave up everything to raise her kids outside of the party scene.
“Think about that for Alejandro,” Tapia said. “Your mom was this great hip-hop founder, she’s part of history — and you ruined it. It’s your fault she gave it all up when she could have been up there with Grandmaster Flash.”
“But it means she had some of the best parts of Molly, and the work ethic to take care of her family, which Alejandro also has,” Montoya said.
The play touches on assimilation and gentrification in New York City, as well as the importance of local artists in the perpetuation of culture — themes that are echoed in the real-life changes happening in the neighborhood where Teatro Paraguas is located. The grassroots theater, which has a mission of producing bilingual work by Latino and Latina playwrights, has been in what some are now referring to as the Rufina Arts District since 2009. Vigil has been involved with Paraguas since childhood. She said that when they first moved into the neighborhood, “It was us and, like, an Emergency Medical Services and a mechanic shop. It was a ghost town.” But in the last few years, theaters, dance studios, restaurants, and other creative businesses have moved in. In March, the old Silva Lanes bowling alley reopened as the Meow Wolf Arts Complex, inside of which is House of Eternal Return, a tourist-drawing permanent installation. There is some fear that the impending neighborhood gentrification will squeeze out the very artists who moved there to get away from downtown and save money.
“My dad lived on Canyon Road when he was a kid, before it was all galleries,” Vigil said. “He lived in a one-room house with his two sisters and his mom. They had no plumbing. There was an outhouse up the hill. I did Meow Wolf as a teenager, and I’ve met so many artists who came to Santa Fe to work on House of Eternal Return. That’s really great because Santa Fe needs young artists, but we need to balance it out so they don’t swallow us and we disappear.”
▼ Welcome to Arroyo’s
▼ Teatro Paraguas Studio, 3205 Calle Marie
▼ 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 8, 6:45 p.m. Saturday, April 9 (gala performance), 2 p.m. Sunday, April 10, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14; performances continue through April 24, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
▼ $18, $12 limited income, $25 gala performance, Thursdays pay-what-you-wish; www.brownpapertickets.com, reservations 505-424-1601
Alix Hudson and Rick Vargas; top, Jonathan Harrell, left, and Matthew Montoya; photos Carla Garcia