Eduardo Machado Revisits Hippie Theater With ‘Rosario and The Gypsies’

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The distinguished Cuban-American playwright Eduardo Machado has created a touchstone piece by taking a one-act play with music, written in 1982, and turning it into a full-length, two-act musical. His “Rosario and the Gypsies,” with songs by composer Rick Vartorella and lyrics by Mr. Machado and Mr. Vartorella, was a short, wild rock ‘n roll play with music about the backstage romances and melodramas of a hippie performance troupe in southern California who were devoted to the art of change. Its songs were a combination of street pop and 60’s-70’s rock. It was produced in NYC by Ensemble Studio Theater in 1982 and it got Machado recognized as a writer to be reckoned with. Machado and Vartorella have now revised the piece and completed its story, adding a second act, in which we learn the future for its characters. Theater for the New City will present this revised and expanded version of “Rosario and the Gypsies” from February 18 to March 8, 2015 directed by Machado.

The troupe at the heart of the musical is a collection of creative fanatics who cling to the New Left idealism, irreverence and spontaneity of the “hippie” theater while confronting the challenges of their time. It is 1982, Reganism is ascendant and their outre performance style has not found (and never will find) an audience. Still, they are unified by the charisma of Rosario, a flamenco dancer. They go through wild love quarrels, artistic conflicts and political gyrations as they figure out how-and whether-to adapt. The central question is: how much is selling out and how much is not living up to what Rosario expects from them. In Act 2, set in the early 90’s, the artists-who have adapted, sort of, in Act 1-realize what they have been missing and come back for more of Rosario’s magic. Rebellious performance is affirmed again, but in post-Reagan terms.

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LR, standing: Heather Velazquez (Rosario), Gizel Jimenez, Kirk McGee, John J. Concado, Michael Domitrovich; kneeling: Robert Boston, Quinlan Corbett. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Machado characterizes the style of the play as “Topanga Canyon theater,” recalling his formative years there. He emigrated from Cuba in 1961 and lived with relatives in Florida until his parents were able to emigrate to California, where he grew up in the canyons surrounding Los Angeles.

The music of the play is all rock and all acoustic to emphasize the “hand made” quality of 60s-70s, late-hippie California. Three live musicians (and some of the actors) will perform on guitar, drums and piano.

Machado’s impulse to revisit “Rosario and the Gypsies” came in part from his experiences in TV writing during the past three years, when he was a Story Editor for HBO’s “Hung” and the Starz show “Magic City,” when for the first time, he could see his writing enacted three weeks after he had finished it. It was a peculiar mirror and it caused him to want to retrace his passage in America, to “check in on how things have changed and how I have changed.” The process, he says, is like going back to your roots as a writer. He explains, “You don’t really know what you have to say that is worth saying. When you are young, you write out of anger. Then you compare yourself with the greats. If you can get past that, you say, ‘I’m still angry and I still want to write.’ So you go back to what is genuine-genuine anger, rebelliousness and the sexual-psychadelic-political revolution-that were inextricably entwined.”

Choreography will be by Crystal Field, Artistic Director of TNC, who played the leading role of a playwriting mentor in Machado’s last TNC production, “Worship” (2014). While she is now better known for her producing, playwriting and directing, Field’s early career was rich in Dance. She was a professional dancer at the age of five, performing with Klarina Pinska. She holds an Associate’s degree in Dance from Julliard (together with a BA in Philosophy from Hunter). Her choreographic pieces have been performed at the 92nd Street Y. She was a member of the New Dance Group and studied Dance with Martha Graham, Sophie Maslow and Jose Limon and choreography with Louis Horst. She was a principal dancer in the Irving Burton Dance Company, performing at the Educational Alliance and the University of Pennsylvania. She choreographed for a number of strawhat theaters including New London Players and the Gretna Playhouse. Later, she was a member of the First Company of Lincoln Center, where she choreographed “The Changeling,” and was a member of the Jerome Robbins Experimental Workshop. She has choreographed six musicals by Arthur Sainer and writes for, directs and choreographs TNC’s 50 member Street Theater company each year for its annual five borough tour.

Field foresees the dances for this play as traditional with a splash of modern insanity. The performance troupe in the play, she says, was avant of the avant garde. The job, she says, is to capture the home-made rebellion and artistic commitment that the play is talking about. She explains, “It is a story of that time when a force within the art world changed the nature of art in this country and maybe in the world. This was done by people who do not have the patina of professional theater but who gave their lives to their Art. They were promiscuous in their relationships, but faithful to their group, meaning the community of artists. Their particular quality and the excellence of the philosophical thought that guided it are what we will seek to develop. They aggressively forced this country to come to grips with the reality of its challenges and we are all the better for it.”

Eduardo Machado is the author of over forty plays, including “The Cook,” “Havana is Waiting,” “The Modern Ladies Of Guanabacoa,” “Fabiola,” “In the Eye of the Hurricane,” “Broken Eggs,” “Once Removed,” “A Burning Beach” and “Stevie Wants to Play the Blues.” His plays have been produced at Seattle Repertory Theatre, the Goodman Theatre, Hartford Stage, Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Mark Taper Forum, Long Wharf Theatre, Hampstead Theatre in London, The American Place Theatre, The Cherry Lane Theatre, INTAR Theatre, Theater for the New City, and Repertorio Espanol, among many others.

Mr. Machado’s television credits include Executive Story Editor on Season 2 of the Starz drama “Magic City,” and serving as Executive Story Editor on two seasons of the HBO television show “Hung.” He wrote and directed the film “Exiles in New York,” which played at the A.F.I Film Festival, South by South West, The Santa Barbara Film Festival and The Latin American International Film Festival in Havana, Cuba.

He has taught playwriting at Columbia University (where from 1997-2007 he was the Head of Playwriting), the Public Theatre, Mark Taper Forum, Sarah Lawrence College and the Playwrights Center. From 2004 to 2010 he was the Artistic Director of the Off-Broadway INTAR Theatre in NYC. Mr. Machado is a member of the Actors Studio, The Ensemble Studio Theater, and an alumnus of New Dramatists, and has served on the boards of TCG, New Dramatists and Theater for the New City.

Mr. Machado has been on faculty in the Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts since 2007. His work is published by Samuel French and TCG. “Tastes Like Cuba: An Exile’s Hunger for Home,” a food memoir by Eduardo Machado and Michael Domitrovich, was released by Gotham Press in 2007. A new collection of his plays entitled “Havana is Waiting and Other Plays” was published by TCG in Spring 2011. His Theater for the New City productions include “Fabiola,” “Why to Refuse,” “Don Juan in N.Y.C.,” “Cuba And The Night,” “Crocodile Eyes,” “Havana Journal: 2004,” “Mariquitas,” “Paula” and “Worship.”

Rick Vartorella wrote and performed the music for Machado’s “Rosario and the Gypsies” and “The Modern Ladies of Guanabacoa.” He has appeared at the Mark Taper Forum (“Once in a Lifetime,” “Leander Stillwell,” “Christmas Carol”) in Los Angeles, The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, MA. He has taught theater, writing, and literature at Colorado College, California State Polytechnic University, Ohio State University, and the Bard College Institute for Writing and Thinking. He is currently on the faculty of Bard High School Early College Manhattan, and the Young Writers Workshop at Bard College of Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

The actors are Robert Boston, John J. Concado, Quinlan Corbett, Michael Domitrovich, Gizel Jimenez, Kirk McGee, Heather Velazquez and Corbin Went. Set design is by Mark Marcante. Lighting design is by Alexander Bartenieff. Costume design is by Michael Bevins.

Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., NYC will present “Rosario and the Gypsies” February 18 to March 8, 2015. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM. There is a preview performance Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 8:00 PM. Tickets are $15 general admission and $10 for seniors and students. The box office number is (212) 254-1109 and tickets can be purchased online at www.theaterforthenewcity.net. The running time is 1:30.