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WBGO: "Living & Breathing" Director Rebecca Martínez talks about the darkly funny and thought-provoking play making its world premiere at Two River Theater

by Doug Doyle

The world premiere of new darkly funny, complex and through-provoking play Living & Breathing runs through February 26 at the Two River Theater in Red Bank. The director of the play is Rebecca Martínez who is excited about working with the playwright Mando Alvarado.

Martínez, an award-winning director, writer, producer and choreographer from New York City, joined WBGO Journal host Doug Doyle to talk about Living & Breathing.

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Doug Doyle/Zoom/“Living & Breathing” director Rebecca Martínez chat with WBGO Journal host Doug Doyle about the world premiere of the new play at Two River Theater in Red Bank

Here’s how Two River Theater describes the play that was read as part of the 2019 Two River Theater Crossing Borders Festival.

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.

Martínez says the play brings up questions about their friendship, about race, about ethnicity and personal identity and just the issues that have been brewing in their relationship.

“Mando is a pretty sharp writer. One thing that really struck me about this show is that it’s not afraid to show the ugliness of humanity. There’s so many things, especially around conversations about race and equity, so many times people are afraid to speak or to engage because they are afraid of making a mistake or they are afraid of offending someone. This ends up being about people who do not necessarily have that filter with each other. For me, even though we see some ugliness that is happening, it is a conversation starter. It opens questions and it sits in places that feel uncomfortable and that space of just feeling uncomfortable is often a place that we as humans need to sit with a little more often, particularly when we’re thinking tensions that exist about race and inequity.”

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Mac Allen/Director Rebecca Martínez working with playwright Mando Alvarado on the world premiere of “Living & Breathing”

Martínez says the play will spark emotions and conversation, but it may need some time to simmer. Some of the audience members have already reached out to her.

“I think the reactions that have not been necessarily immediate, but have been a few days later, by getting a text or a thought from someone who saw it and said I’m still thinking about this and it is still sitting with me in an uncomfortable way and I’m trying to figure out why. I think it’s one of the reasons why I like the show.”

How has the show changed her?

“I mean the one thing that I think about a lot, particularly with being Latina, is the important thing that being Latina doesn’t mean that all Latinos or Latina folks are a monolith. We come from many different countries and many different cultures, many different races and many different ethnicities. That is something really important to reckon with. There’s been anti-blackness since colonization within Latina cultures. I think this play brings that to the fore in a way that makes me uncomfortable but also makes me reckon with this is part of my culture, or my cultures and different heritage that I have. This is something that I can’t forget about and I have to think about everyday.”

The cast of Living & Breathing includes Chris Gardener (Jeremy), Carlos Ibarra (Ruben), Michael Markham (Todd) and Christopher M. Ramirez (Michael).

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T. Charles Erickson/ A scene from “Living & Breathing” running through February 26 at Two River Theater

Martínez says she caught the “theater bug” when she was just six years old. After being chosen as the “narrator” for one of her school plays, all she wanted to do was be in plays.

“My parents took me to dinner theater when I was a kid. So I saw Sound of Music at a dinner theater and I wanted to be the nun who sang “Climb Every Mountain”, don’t have the pipes for it, but still wanted to be it. My parents took me to Camelot when I was maybe 10 or 11. Then when I was 17 I took my mom to a touring production of Les Miserables in Omaha Nebraska. My parents were not necessarily supportive of the idea of making a career in theater. My dad wanted me to get a job where I actually made money, which is understandable. So, I didn’t pursue it school. I ended up moving in Portland, Oregon and I went to a small Latino theater company. I remember seeing a play and all I wanted to know was what was happening backstage.”

She ended up working for that company and the career of Rebecca Martínez was launched.

Rebecca Martínez/Rebecca Martínez lives in New York City

Martínez is also an ensemble member of Sojourn Theatre and with the company she has worked as a lead artist on projects including DON’T GO (USC), How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes (Cleveland Public Theater & Vanderbilt University) and many other projects.

You can SEE the entire interview with Rebecca Martínez here.