SANTA FE, N.M. — Three different actresses portray three different life stages of Fernando Reyes in “Revolution,” a new play by Alix Hudson that is being performed over the next three weeks at Teatro Paraguas.
Cristina Vigil is the wary, somewhat confused young woman who is still trying to feel her way through life.
Roxanne Tapia is the aggressive, but troubled, Zapatista revolutionary who has decided to live life as the man that she identifies herself as being.
And JoJo Sena de Tarnoff is the older Fernando Reyes, settled in life and accepted – even admired for his sharp-shooting, revolutionary service – in the community as a man.
But while the play is an exploration of the decisions individuals make about their gender identity, an issue that feels new to many, but actually reaches far back through history, it also, at its heart, is a love story of Reyes and his long-time enamorada, Ana Maria, portrayed by the playwright herself.
“It’s such a struggle, but it’s a beautiful love story,” said Tapia.
“It has its hard parts and sad parts, but it’s a love story, which we don’t get enough of,” said Hudson, noting that, while movies like “Girls Don’t Cry” and “Brokeback Mountain” offer searing portrayals of gender issues, the beauty of love in homosexual or transgender relationships doesn’t get enough attention.
Hudson said the roots of her inspiration for the play came from a college Chicana literature class. She was researching a final paper on butch Mexicanas when she stumbled across the story of Amelia – then Amelio – Robles, a transgender man from a century ago who fought in the Mexican Revolution, where he forged an identity as a man and preserved it, despite journalists who sought him out in later years and told his story in a sensationalistic way with feminine pronouns, she said.
And maybe her interest in the story was reinforced by the fact that she had to miss the final days of the class so she could perform as a backup dancer for Miss Gay Colorado in the Drag Nationals in Roanoke, Va.
“I told my professor I would do make-up stuff and she added some pages to my final,” Hudson said.
A couple of years ago, she developed a short play with the three ages of Fernando’s character talking among themselves about their love for Ana Maria, which lasted through a lifetime.
“Then the character Alejandra appeared,” Hudson said. “She’s such an incredible foil.”
Alejandra, portrayed in this production by Giacomo Zafarano, is a man who identifies as a woman. “She is a model for Fernando to follow,” Hudson said, although in reverse, since Fernando has a hard time understanding why a man, which he is struggling to be, would want to be a woman. In the play, the wealthy Alejandra is in the small village because she was shipped off to a family hacienda after an incident of mass arrests of gay men in Mexico City.
That is an historical event, Dance of the Forty-One, a raid on gay men in 1901. Other events alluded to in the play are based on actual history, although the town and characters are all fiction.
“Revolution” is told in a series of dream-like sequences, with time and place sometimes shifting and merging. The main characters clearly feel a sense of “other,” of not fitting in, including the love interest, Ana Maria, Hudson said.
A woman from a middle-class background, Ana Maria seeks to make her own way in the world in a time and place when women married and had children. Ana Maria finds an alternative route by going into teaching, finding herself empowered through that work in a small village.
So what attracts her to Fernando?
“Right away, there’s a connection when they meet,” said Sena de Tarnoff. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a girl or a guy: This is the person I so love.”
She adds that she loves the character she plays. “He acts grumpy, but he’s not,” she said. “He’s putting up a tough front, but he’s really so happy inside, so in love.”
Adding that she feels the character brings out something inside her, she said, “I don’t know much about the Zapatistas, but I bet you anything I would have been one of those. It’s really exciting to portray something from back in the Mexican Revolution.”
But many of the themes cross generations and gender preferences, touching many current issues, Tapia said. “I think it will resonate” with audience members, she added.