Fernando Dovalina’s hurricane stories hit Houston.
by Donalevan Maines
Out playwright Fernando Dovalina knows the difference between drama and high drama. Drama is two dogs fighting over one bone, as in Dovalina’s award-winning short play “A Bag of Ice,” which involves hurricane provisions in short supply. High drama is a black man in women’s clothes. But rather than stage a raise-the-roof ballad in “Until the Storm Passes,” Dovalina takes a more subtle approach in his new one-act comedy-drama about an African-American wife and cross-dressing husband preparing to ride out Hurricane Ike when a knock at the door wrecks their world.
Those plays, along with seven other pieces, comprise Eye of the Storm/Tales from Hurricane Ike.
Two dozen actors under the direction of Steve Carpentier help bring to life Dovalina’s tales set against the backdrop of the 2008 hurricane that ravaged Galveston and wreaked havoc on parts of Houston—including Montrose, where Dovalina lives with his husband, Barry.
While both “A Bag of Ice,” which takes place in a convenience store, and “Water Line,” set in a bar in Galveston, won productions in the annual Scriptwriters/Houston 10×10 short-play competition, “Until the Storm Passes” and its cross-dressing character, Gloria, will be new to theatergoers on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Ike. But as surprising as Gloria’s unexpected visit is to the couple, says Dovalina, don’t expect a sassy “Sex Is in the Heel” drag queen like Lola in Kinky Boots. “Gloria is more subdued. It’s not a drag-queen role,” says Dovalina, who took great pains to create a respectful depiction of a married couple in which the husband feels like he “was born in the wrong body.”
Dovalina was born seventy-one years ago in Laredo, the oldest of three sons of a father who loved poetry and a mother who knew no English when she crossed the border into the United States at age twelve. “We always had books,” he says. “Even though we were relatively poor, somehow we always had books.”
It was always a given that Dovalina and his brothers would go to college, and Dovalina led the way by getting a degree in journalism at the University of Texas. He spent a total of five years at newspapers in Beaumont and Fort Worth before joining the Houston Chronicle in 1968.
The next year, he met Barry at a Thanksgiving dinner. “I asked him to come home with me, and he said, ‘No, but here’s my phone number,’” Dovalina recalls. “I thought, ‘Yeah, right.’
“But I called him the next day, and he came over and never left,” says Dovalina. “We were like lesbians—and I mean that in the nicest way.”
In September 2011, the couple made it official by getting married at a ceremony in New York City that was performed by a United Methodist minister.
For most of their forty-four years together, says Dovalina, “we followed a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. It was a slow, slow process that reflects my generation.
On some level, my family knew, but we didn’t talk about it.” Most recently, however, Dovalina says, “I took Barry to a family wedding and introduced him as my husband. I was very pleased and proud of how everyone reacted. Everyone took him under their wing and treated him like part of the family.”
Dovalina, who interviewed two African-American couples in which the husband is a cross-dresser, hopes that audiences will embrace Gloria with tolerance and understanding. “The ‘T’ in LGBT, I’m new to it, too,” he says.
Dovalina says that three short comedy-dramas in Eye of the Storm/Tales from Hurricane Ike are connected by a single character, Missy. “She is an angry white woman who doesn’t know how to edit what comes out of her mouth and is often spectacularly politically incorrect,” he explains.
Another piece, called “Collateral Damage,” is about a married couple who own a Mexican restaurant in Galveston that is devastated by Ike.
Dovalina calls “Storms, They Can Make or Break You” a Saturday Night Live-type sketch in which six hurricanes—Carla, Andrew, Katrina, Rita, Ike, and Sandy—fight among themselves over which one made the biggest impact on presidential politics. “Allison” is a short coda to it. “It’s an attempt by another storm to explain just what a harrowing experience she was,” says Dovalina.
“Val, a Monologue” tells what happens to a drugged-out skate-boarding slacker and his best pal after they break into a beach home in Gilchrist hours before the storm destroys the town.
“Maggie, a Monologue” is a survivor’s account told from the point of view of man’s best friend.
What: Eye of the Storm/Tales from Hurricane Ike
When: September 5–21
Where: Studio 101, 1824 Spring St.
Tickets: $15, $12 seniors/students with valid ID/ groups of 10 or more. Tickets can be purchased online at eyeofthestorm.brownpapertickets.com.
Donalevan Maines also writes about Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical in this issue of OutSmart magazine.