Playwright Mando Alvarado answered some of our burning questions about his play Living & Breathing, one of four productions in our 2022/23 Season.
Living & Breathing is onstage Jan 28 – Feb 26 / 2023.
Can you talk briefly about the evolution of Living & Breathing from Crossing Borders (Cruzando Fronteras) to now?
Getting the opportunity to have it read at Crossing Borders was invaluable. I learned so much about the play, the audience’s response to it, and my confidence in what I wanted to say with it. Luckily for me, Two River then offered me two more opportunities to grow and develop the play. As it was being considered for production, I took that time to really dig into the characters, find nuance interplay between them that spoke on not only their friendship in a deeper more emotional sense but their shared history. I ended up strengthening their arcs and arguments. As with everything pandemic, it was put on hold but I continued to fine tune the play, mine the humor, and eventually solve a problem in one of the final scenes of the play.
What inspired you to write Living & Breathing?
Oh, it was a whole host of things. In the aughts, I saw Art at Two River and my best friend, Michael Ray Escamilla, was in it. He was fantastic but I didn’t fully relate to the play. I felt like it didn’t really capture male friendships or I should say, the way my friends and I interact. So, in 2017, when I decided to write a new play, I wanted to write something inspired by Michael and the play Art. Around that time, the debate about Civil War monuments was being argued passionately and Trump’s America was in full swing. As a person of color, it just didn’t feel safe in this country and I wanted to express that but in a personal way. I realized that growing up in Texas my environment was mostly made up of Mexican-Americans so I didn’t fully experience racism to a large degree. But when I left South Texas, I realized that I had become the other. I was the token in the room. The safe, friendly ethnic. Most of my friends at that point were white so when I went to a party or a wedding or a work function, I would scan the room and only see my face in the people who were serving the drinks or passing around the appetizers. I realized I was the living and breathing statue in the room, the object to be studied, surrounded by white eyes.
Do you have a favorite line or exchange in the show that you feel will resonate with audiences?
I really love Michael’s last monologue for two reasons. One, it happened to me when I was in the 2nd grade. And two, we’re so horrible to each other but, in the end, we’re also just one speck in a tapestry of infinite specks so what are we fighting about and does it really even matter?
Why should audiences see Living & Breathing?
I think what I really love about this play is that no one is left unscathed. No one is off the hook. We all have our biases but that doesn’t make us bad people. We’re so scared to be called racists that we miss the point in having an honest discussion about race, differences, histories, and truths. I think we need to accept the fact that we have blind spots, some come from our families and friends, our upbringing, our neighborhoods, what we see on TV, the movies, the books, the media, the internet. It shapes our opinions constantly and it’s okay to admit that. Sometimes you just don’t know that you’re saying something that might offend another human being and it’s okay to be called out on it and it’s okay to have a discussion about it and it’s okay to apologize, learn and move on from it in a healthy, healing way.
ABOUT LIVING & BREATHING
The impulsive purchase of some provocative art – a living Latino man who is paid to behave as a statue – shatters a multi-ethnic friend group by sparking questions of commodification, stereotypes, and complacency. While the validity of the artist’s vision might be up for debate, one thing is undeniable: the friendship between these three men is much more fragile than they had realized. Complex, darkly funny, and thought-provoking, this play by Mando Alvarado was read as a part of the 2019 Two River Theater Crossing Borders Festival.