By Donalevan Maines
Pancho Villa rides again when out Houston playwright Josh Inocéncio performs his clever, exhilarating one-man show Purple Eyes this month at the University of Houston.
The free performance promises to be an LGBT highlight of Cultural Connect Week, February 27–March 3, on the UH campus.
For non-Latinos, Pancho Villa, a famous Mexican revolutionary, is probably the most recognizable name among the cultural references in what Inocéncio calls his “ancestral auto/biographic” piece that connects his own story of growing up gay with the tale of three male ancestors whose century of machismo living helped inform who he is. That tale includes his father, whose motto is, “I’ll try anything once. Twice just to make sure I don’t like it.” (Whee! Now we’re having fun!)
“I wrote Purple Eyes shortly after coming out,” says Inocéncio, who is now 26 and more than two years into his liberation as an out author, performer, and teacher who grew up in far-northeast Houston surrounded by macho men.
“And, of course, I played with dolls!” he tells the audience. (As tempted as I am to continue quoting from the festive script, I don’t want to take anything away from the enjoyment of seeing Inocéncio perform it live.)
Suffice to say that this rising LGBT theater star (and OutSmart contributing writer) mines plenty of humor and humanity in his colorful reportage. While some of his words and phrases will be unfamiliar—including some Mexican and Native American concepts that seem foreign—simply putting them out there underscores the importance and purpose of UH’s Cultural Connect Week.
In conjunction with this presentation of Purple Eyes, Inocéncio will hold at least four writing workshops, mainly in LGBT studies classes at UH. His workshops are designed to show others how they, too, can better understand themselves and their heritage by investigating their ancestors, and then writing and performing a bit of what they learn.
Students will be encouraged to bring a family heirloom or cultural object from home, which Inocéncio can use to guide them through exercises that will help them craft a prologue, a central conflict, and a resolution for their performance piece. Each student will get an opportunity to perform his or her piece for the group and receive feedback from Inocéncio on how to expand it into a solo play.
Such “cultural work, storytelling, remembering, and bridge-making” seems to come naturally to Inocéncio, a 2008 graduate of Atascocita High School who earned a bachelor’s degree in theater with a focus on acting and directing at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
Next, as a graduate student in theater studies at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Inocéncio got to write, perform, and direct plays while also studying the history and philosophy of theater.
His UH performance is another stop on his “Texas tour” of theaters and cultural centers that often includes audience talk-back discussions in addition to his writing workshops.
“The title Purple Eyes comes from my dad’s notorious purple sunglasses he wore when I was a kid,” Inocéncio explains. “[It also refers to] the ability of the men in my family to ‘queer’ the world around them, despite their hyper-masculine tendencies.”
Inocéncio has completed a second play, The Little Edelweiss; or, An Immigrant’s Fairytale, which envisions—in the style of stories Inocéncio’s grandmother read to him as a child—his closeted great-uncle’s journey from Austria to the United States. That will be followed by Chocolate Gravy and White Jesus, which will complete Inocéncio’s set of scripts about various ancestral backgrounds that he calls Splintered in Three: An American Trilogy.
Last fall, Inocéncio got to see his work performed from a seat in the audience when the Landing Theatre Company’s The Redemption Series included his short play dallas/love the bomb—one of a dozen urgent works selected from the group’s national call for plays “in response to crisis in America,” and mostly focused on recent police killings and last June’s Pulse nightclub massacre.
“It was my first foray into writing something and handing it over for someone else to do,” says Inocéncio, who learned a lot from the experience.
Next month, another 10-minute script by Inocéncio will be performed as a staged reading at the 38th Annual Mid-America Theatre Conference, to be held March 16–19 at the Hyatt Regency Houston/Galleria. Ofélio, says Inocéncio, concerns an on-campus sexual assault.
What: Free performance of Purple Eyes (part of UH’s Cultural Connect Week, February 27–March 3)
When: February 28, 6 p.m.
Where: University of Houston, 4800 Calhoun Road
Details: joshinocencio.com and uh.edu/cdi/events_programs/ccw/
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.