ARTS

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February 18, 2011

Sanchez answers life's big questions with Porque

The search for God is a pretty big undertaking. In Porque No Comes, Lupe Sanchez single-handedly takes on the task. The play is a one-man semi-autobiographical comedy act written, performed, 
and produced by Sanchez himself, though it is directed by Jonald Reyes and Oliver Aldape.

Overall, the performance was enjoyable and often quite funny.
 However, Porque No Comes’s narrative struggles and doesn’t quite fit the purpose that Sanchez intended for it. No clear or credible point emerges,
 although it seems as though the entire show is trying very hard to make one.

 Sanchez’s clear talent for character sketch is the force that carries the show; its successes are many, but
 momentary and disorganized.

Self-described as a “semi-falsified autobiographical performance,” the piece begins with Sanchez’s birth into a Catholic Hispanic family and follows his development from infant to adult in Schaumberg, IL—a wealthy, mostly white suburb. The play takes its title from Sanchez’
s mother’s highly amusing tic of saying that every misfortune happens
 “porque no comes,” or “because you don’t eat.”

The story tries to fit 
Sanchez’s life into the very traditional Christian narrative of disbelief, misfortune, and eventual conversion.

 At the same time, it attempts to address the racism Sanchez
 experienced as a casual occurrence throughout his life. In this the play
 fails; the highly stereotyped racist characters (e.g.
 a Confederate bandanna-sporting football team initially dislikes 
Sanchez because he is Hispanic) do not conclusively develop Sanchez’s character. In his own words, he “sells out” and accepts the
 friendship the team later extends him. The viewer understands the pain Sanchez feels because of
 racism, but the play never successfully links the experience of racism
 to a marked effect in his life.

Even more problematic is God, who figures very strangely into the play, given how it foregrounds the role of faith. God booms answers out of the overhead speakers when called upon, yet speaks with portentous vagueness, finally handing out such strange and direct consolations such as “heaven is on Earth,” or “heaven is a place that you choose” (which turns out to be the ultimate message of the play).

There are two significant “interviews” that Sanchez has with God. In the first appearance, it’s hard to tell whether God is to be satirized or serious. Sanchez’s body language and script cue the audience to note the ridiculous quality of the interview, yet Sanchez also seems very sincere in his pursuit of faith. In the second interview, when things have worsened significantly in Sanchez’s life
 (friends in car crashes, brain aneurysms), his acting takes a turn for the serious, and the viewer suddenly understands that the interviews, and God, are to be taken in earnest.

 After this point, the story feels very forced and predictable.

Another problem for the play is the flow of time. Sanchez’s girlfriend going in for a wax takes a lagging six minutes in a one and a half-hour play, while Sanchez’s God-inspired leap to success goes at whirlwind speed: In literally 25 seconds he rattles off a list of accomplishments that sounds more like a résumé than a story.

Despite these unfortunate qualities, the play is not a failure.
 It is a piece of stage comedy whose greatest strengths have
 nothing to do with its rhetorical goals. It is often funny and surprising, and showcases a genuine and sparkling talent for concise 
characterization.

Sanchez’s ability to evoke place and person with a
 few gestures, an accent, and posture is much to be admired. From his 
depiction of his small-town Mexican grandmother’s ninja-like
 chicken-catching skills, to his family’s way of dealing with invasions 
of cousins (“Do I have to sleep in the oven again?”), the viewer
 leaves the play with a very clear, endearing, and funny portrait of a
 family, complete with all of its idiosyncrasies and problems.

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