By Eric Heinz
Not even the COVID-19 pandemic could keep playwright and director Jonathan Marcantoni from casting Northsider Angelo Mendez-Soto in his latest production.
Mendez-Soto was supposed to be in Marcantoni’s “Puerto Rican Nocturne” in Colorado Springs in late 2019. He made the trip from North Denver to the Springs, driving through snow to do his audition during an open mic night.
“It just blew us away and he really charmed us,” Marcantoni said. “He got cast in that production, which was then shut down by the pandemic. Our opening night was the night that they closed all the theaters.”
Mendez-Soto had to prepare on the fly for his performance.
“They had handed me a script about five minutes before, and he said, ‘I want you to play this character,’” Mendez-Soto said. “So I said, I’m going to do my audition right here, and I read the piece.”
Marcantoni was based in Colorado Springs but he has since moved to Denver. The production is taking place at The Bug Theater, 3654 Navajo St.
Mendez-Soto said he’s been a community theater actor for the last 44 years since his move to the Mile High City from Harlem in New York City. He mostly appears in productions with Su Teatro, and he was recently honored for his work by the theater.
“Puerto Rican Nocturne” is a dramatization that examines the aftermath of the Cerro Maravilla murders, which occurred in 1978 when a group of pro-American cops murdered activists who wanted independence for Puerto Rico, Marcantoni said.
“I wanted to write it as someone who loves history and especially the history of my people,” Marcantoni said. “I saw it as a story ripe with a lot of ideas that are close to me, and particularly the effects of colonialism psychologically on people.”
Marcantoni said he’s lost a few loved ones in Puerto Rico over the last few years, and the play helped him “navigate those feelings.”
“The play focuses on two alternating perspectives, that of the undercover cop that organized the killings, Alejandro González Malavé, and the mother of the youngest victim, whose name is Adria,” Marcantoni said.
Mendez-Soto plays Malavé, a character for which the actor is given a two-and-a-half-minute powerfully emotional monologue. He said the role resonated with him because he remembers the news coming from Puerto Rico about the killings.
“For me, it was something that I had been around; I’d been around in that era,” he said. “It was close to home.”
The play premiered Aug. 5, but remaining shows are at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 19 and 20, and at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 21. Tickets are available at bugtheatre.org and are $10 for students, $30 for general admission and $50 for those who want to donate to the theater.