If you’re looking for a truly haunting experience, look no further than Ricardo Gamboa’s The Wizards — 90 minutes! 15 min intermission! — previously showing in APO Pilsen, Chicago.
What haunting is, as C. Riley Snorton reminds us in “Black on Both Sides” (pg. ix):
Our everyday lives are horrifying. With everyday reminders of our communities being killed by the police, by anti-blackness, by transphobia, by the multiplying upon multiplied colonial and capitalistic logics of accumulation, of… visibility and representation. In other words, despite this hellstate, we are in an ever-changing productive swampland — within ourselves and our interrelations. Ricardo is aware of this and goes beyond queer Latinx and of color representation — the play is a testament to the complexities of our intergenerational lives, and how we are resisting capitalism by healing our ancestors.
But is the reminder of violence really something we want to pay for, and exchange hours of rest or joy for?
Yes, indeed, I will show you. Yes.
As Ricardo intentionally reminds us at the beginning of the play, in true Chicago poetry style — “You, the audience, is part of the play. So snap, cry, clap, laugh — with your neighbors — be your whole selves! ”
Well, I sure did feel right at home. Perhaps it was too close. I turned to my friend date — a very cute, undocumented, queer, Mexican organizer person that hates all these labels because as she said after the play: can’t we just be? Be ourselves?
That was after I told her:
“I dunno, it was kinda too much. not too much but like ugh really? Do our lives always have to be stereotypes? Is this trauma porn? Like, this is my life and my uncle Sergio was killed by the police because of limpieza social — a phenomenon in Medellin, Colombia in the 1990s when trans people, drug addicts, sex workers, and homeless people were killed in “street cleanings,” thus creating a category of “the marginalized” in an all-too-real drama, and my other uncle, Chalo, was killed by opps when he had just finished graduating high school — 18. A baby.”
“Fuck this,” I said, “I hate these racist white boys so much, [date’s name redacted]. We should walk out, I can’t stand seeing them — not even in a play — can we please go?” I shuffled in my seat, clutching my Tamagotchi necklace (by Remy Guzman, @realfreshshrimp) from beeping.
I mean I’m glad I saw it. And I’d recommend you see it. And when you watch it, I dare you to laugh. Because queers of color are gonna be waiting for you to laugh at the wrong parts, so you can interrogate within yourself… just what… is so… funny? And when you notice the white people who are hiding their transphobic smirks or racist chuckles — this is the work of Euphoric Transmutation (Bermúdez Mejía, forthcoming).
What I loved most was the dialectic of the two lead actors, Sam and Amado. Sam is trying really hard to stay alive — fugitivity — and Amado really just loves to tussle — euphoric transmutation. In other words, both of them are resisting capitalism in very different ways (fleeing vs. fighting), and both get caught up in the spirituality that comes from intersubjective communication and its connection to the divine.
Y sabes qué, se me ocurre que I’m still having flashbacks porque I saw that play on Friday, and then Saturday — osea ayer, I walked up to Taquería Tayahua on 2411 S. Western Ave., and there were four white boys that popped out of NOWHERE. Opened the door and walked inside, talking all loud as if they were in an amusement park or something. And they say WE’RE loud (hard eye roll). I was going into the back because I had just pulled my wig off in the car and I was being read as trans femme and I just wanted to be off everyone’s eyes and there was no one in the back.
BUT THE WHITE BOYS FOLLOWED ME TO THE BACK. I was like ayalavida yo no puedo estar aquí con estos hijueputas and turned back to sit in the front with all the families who had maybe just come out of church and stared me up and down.
Anyway, I’m just now realizing those four white boys were the same four white boys who killed my uncles. The same white boys who killed the ghosts of Amado’s ancestors. It is truly haunting, this state of emergency.
Sigh. As poet Vita E. Cleveland (@vitae19892015) would say, “I’m doing well, I guess, as well as a girl can be living the violence of anti-Black transphobia while researching and writing about it.”
But at the laptop then, finishing my paper on euphoric transmutation which is the praxis and strategic theory of trans people of color where we use humor to disrupt transphobia by being one step ahead of it. For example, in Taquería Tayahua that day, after washing my hands in the men’s restroom and getting hard stares, I batted my eyelashes and gave the watcher a huge smile.
Sam is the only Black actor in the play, and it’s noticeable. And there’s only one woman in the play! Like, we need more representation of [insert all the intersectional oppressions here] people.
Oh, and THANK GOD for the intermission. I really needed to release my body from the tension of the first half and say hi across the stage to my favorite tocayito chulis tulis, whose sibling sells the most delicious vegan dessert pies (@pleasurepies).
If you want a challenge to the essentialist tropes of identity-based performances, or an alternative to meaningless trauma porn, or, if you’d just like to vicariously experience what it’s like to be us — catch “The Wizards” before it transmutes.
Playwright and actor Ricardo Gamboa is a local Chicagoan, Mexicanx genderqueer cutie. The Wizards ran Oct 14 – Nov 26, 2022 in APO in Pilsen, Chicago. This review was written and edited during the month of November.
About the author: Tulio Bermúdez Mejía is a trans mestizx colombianx who teaches at the University of Chicago. He grew up in the latinx diaspora in texas and also caracas, and spent a decade with native Nasos in what is known as Panamá, co-writing a 5-volume Naso Cultural Encyclopedia by and for the community. These days, they write about how trans of color communities practice euphoric transmutation to undo systems like the gender binary and racial hierarchy in everyday life, through humor, ritual, performance, movement, entheogens, and play. You can find them on Twitter at @tulipanati.