It was the fall of 1979. My dear queer peers Danny Vice, Stella (John) Mifsud, and myself formed a little acting ensemble we fondly christened "Guerrilla Queen Theater." We rehearsed for two months before joining all the other queers heading to Washington D.C. for the first National Gay March On Washington on October 12, 1979. We stationed ourselves in front of the Justice Building, holding hands and chanting poetry about "The Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name." Danny, Stella, and me—We dared. We spoke. We made the walls of the Justice Building tremble with our radical faggotism. Brothers and sisters gathered around us, clapping their hands and stamping their feet, lending their fierce staccato to the revolutionary tune of our words, our poems.
Stella (John) Mifsud, Michael Garcia, Danny Vice
Now, many years later, I'm living another revolution—a personal one. Hold the Hot Sauce! is the offspring of my emerging revolutionary spirit. It is the chronicle of my own story, told by me, in my own words.
It is my fervent wish that those who come to Hold the Hot Sauce! will go home afterwards remembering me fondly. But even more importantly, perhaps they'll also look with a kinder eye upon their own stories and be inspired to write them down.
Hold the Hot Sauce!, Bailiwick Repertory. It's hard to dislike a solo show in which the performer offers audience members napkins on which to write their phone numbers, then deposits them in a shopping bag labeled, "Garcia's Dates." Much praised for his consummate storytelling in Under Milk Wood, Michael Garcia in Hold the Hot Sauce! shares his own telling tales, and with an eloquence to match the content. His often intense 60-minute confessional—a matinee offering in Bailiwick Repertory's Pride Performance Series—shines with one man's view of life as "a long and lovely awakening" (Oscar Wilde called existence "a long and lovely suicide"). We hear how Garcia's hostile parents made their gay son an "orphan" (though his mother later sent a heartbreaking letter of reconciliation), how losing 40 pounds freed him from a bad self-image, how he spent $20,000 on pot over a decade, and how the "dear love of comrades" continues to remedy loneliness and the devasting loss of a friend named Kevin to AIDS.
Garcia, whose acting could render a timetable climactic, naturally does even better with these detailed disclosures: assorted shapshots from CTA rides, a quarrel he has with God's bullies ("Religion got in the way of my faith"), and the constant courage he needs to be openly gay. (Asked "When did you come out?" he answers, "Every day.") Staged by Michael Halberstam with a rich mix of caring and comedy, Garcia's monologue is as inimitable as its source: a Chicano who is neither Spanish-speaking, Catholic, nor heterosexual—described by a friend as "a highly localized distortion." More such distortions might straighten out the world.
As one of two shows that kick off Bailiwick's new Solo'd Out Series (the other being John McGivern's Midwest Side Story), Michael Garcia's wonderful Hot Sauce! is set apart from the scores of other autobiographical monologues by Garcia's irresistible persona as a storyteller and his remarkable skills as a poetic writer who can find new, fascinating angles at which to view well-worn subject matter.
Along the way, he deflates some of the stereotypes of Mexican-Americans. For the record, he doesn't speak Spanish, he isn't Catholic, and he doesn't like hot sauce on Mexican food.
Beginning with the familiar idea that every life is a story waiting to be told, he provides some background on his parents. Garcia is the son of a soldier named Israel, and many of his episodes revolve around the idea of becoming a man, whether by the traditional means of standing up to the school bully or by mourning the death of a friend. As he says, "I became a man many times."
Throughout the piece, he alternates between a charming, straightforward narrative style and a powerful, imaginative lyricism. His stories touch on the familiar: coming out, a secret affair with a college roommate, a doomed crush on a straight boy ("my unwritten poem"), and the untimely AIDS-related death of a friend. However, Garcia avoids any of the usual clichés by focusing on the interesting details as well as by finding beautiful, startling ways to make intangible feelings palpable.
In an erotic letter to a lover, he brilliantly evokes the ecstasy of lust while his description of a memorial service is heartbreaking and spiritually cleansing in equal measure.
These moments are contrasted by the sweet self-deprecation of his other stories in which he describes his love life as "rigor mortis" or recounts his initial, hesitant attempts at acting.
This delicate balance of drama and comedy, intensity and mundaneness, neatly outlines not only the mood of the performance but, in a larger sense, demonstrates Garcia's prescription for the spiritually rewarding life.
What About Loneliness?
...My friends do keep asking me, "How's your love life?" I tell them, "Well, the phrase 'rigor mortis' comes to mind."
Sometimes I wish I had a ghost writer for my love life. Then responsibility for this mess would no longer be mine. I would just hire another ghost...
excerpt from Hold the Hot Sauce
It took about a year to write the script. But that wasn't enough. I needed help putting it together. And Mr. Michael Halberstam said yes when I asked him to please direct my one-man show. Michael Halberstam is (then and now) the artistic director of Writer's Theater. I am glad of my past association with Writer's Theater and it's remarkable leader, Michael.