After writing many short stories and what he calls some very bad poetry, Union City native and West New York resident Adrian Rodriguez has found his break as a playwright.
Rodriguez, whose first one-act play, Cuban Operator Please... was presented at the 2000 New York Fringe Festival, has completed two more one-act plays that are being presented along with Cuban Operator at the Park Theatre in Union City on Dec. 8 and 9.
The trilogy, "The Union City Plays: An Intimate History of Exile," is being co-produced by the Park Theater and the Union City-based theater company, The Hudson Exploited Theater Company. It tells the story of many first generation Cuban Americans and their families.
"I was always going to write the great Cuban-American novel," said Rodriguez, explaining that becoming a writer was always a dream of his. "But the great Cuban-American play will be just fine."
The three productions, Cuban Operator Please...; La Fabrica, which was featured in the 2001 New York City Fringe Festival; and Floating Home; which will be presented for the first time at the Park Theater, are all one-act plays chronicling a family's story.
"They each can stand alone," said Rodriguez. "But what really makes them powerful as a work of art is presenting them together."
Union City resident Arian Blanco will be directing the production.
When Rodriguez first began writing Cuban Operator Please..., he did not expect to be writing a trilogy.
"After writing Cuban Operator Please..., it became very clear that there was more that I wanted to say," said Rodriguez. "There was still a lot of material that I wanted to communicate."
Rodriguez, a Cuban American born of immigrant parents, said that his first play is based on his family's experience in this country.
"Cuban Operator Please... was largely autobiographical," said Rodriguez, pointing out the obvious difference that his real father is still alive. "[The trilogy] represents a private history from the perspective of my generation."
La Fabrica, the second play, is set in an embroidery factory in Union City and shows the father character interacting with his co-workers. Floating Home, the third play in the trilogy, takes place 10 years after the first play.
"The trilogy tells the story of at least two and a half generations," said Rodriguez, referring to his father's generation, his generation, and the present younger generation.
The production will feature the original cast from Cuban Operator Please..., including Union City Police Officer Omar Hernandez, and four new cast members.
Emilio Degado, who plays Luis on Sesame Street, is featured as the priest in Floating Home.
Making a choice
Probably the biggest triumph in writing these plays was that the plays are completely bilingual. Cuban Operator Please... is written 40 percent in Spanish, La Fabrica is almost completely in Spanish and Floating Home is almost completely in English.
"This is completely bi-cultural and bilingual," said Rodriguez, explaining that as a Latino artist he is forced to choose which language he will communicate with. "I am more comfortable in English, but I am comfortable enough in Spanish to write a powerful play and piece of Spanish literature."
Rodriguez, who speaks fluently in both languages, said that the decision to make the play bilingual was not an easy one.
"We decided to take the risk that we may be alienating two audiences at the same time," he said.
Both Blanco and Rodriguez are happy to move their production to the Park Theatre.
"This is a play that is about this community," said Rodriguez. "This may be the only time they will get to see serious theater that reflects their experiences without falling into simple nostalgia."
"There is so much to play with technically to add to [the piece] artistically," said Blanco about performing at the Park Theatre.
Rodriguez won't see the actual production until the cast's dress rehearsal right before the opening.
"The dress rehearsal right before the production is really when I see it and enjoy it the most," said Rodriguez. He said he won't wait until they're before an audience, though, because it makes him too nervous.
The Hudson Exploited Theater Company was founded in 1990 and resurrected in 1999 to give up-and-coming theater professions a platform in which to showcase their work.
"There is a lot of art here," said Arian Blanco, who was still attending Union Hill High School when he helped create the company in 1990. "There isn't a forum where they can showcase their talent, and there should be."
However, just a few years later, in 1993, the company dissolved and the members pursued their own academic careers.
The company was resurrected in 1999 by some of its original members with a production of Of Mice and Men.
Since then, the company has been expanding to include producing plays and readings both in the area and in New York City.
"Now we are moving away from one-act plays and readings to full productions," said Blanco. "This is technically and artistically a more challenging piece."
Blanco now works for the New York State Council on the Arts and has directed many New York City productions including The Karaoke Resort and Coup Detat, which were both written by Rogelio Martinez, the co-founder of the Exploited Theater Company. Rodriguez teaches history at Columbia High School in Maplewood.
Performances of the Union City Plays at the Park Theatre, located at 560 32nd Street, will take place on Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. A question and answer period will directly follow the Dec. 9 performance.
Tickets for the show are $15. To purchase tickets, call 201-865-6980 ext. 20.