Sometimes, laughter is the best medicine — and that’s what Michele Van Hessen, theater instructor at Seward County Community College, is counting on as she looks ahead to the college’s fall play.
“Novio Boy,” a bilingual, bicultural comedy by Gary Soto, tells the story of a young man’s first date. A whole community becomes involved in helping Rudy in his pursuit of the beautiful, older — and taller — Patricia.
Van Hessen hopes the lighthearted, slice-of-life play will do much more than bring back memories of first love.
“I wanted to find a bilingual play that would serve to heal our community’s emotional struggles with the events surrounding the present immigration protocol,” she said. “But I wasn’t sure where to start. When I was young and lived in Europe, I spoke other languages, but I don’t speak Spanish. So, I did what I do best — network.”
Van Hessen reached out to California friends in the theater community.
“They asked me, ‘Do you know Gary Soto?’ I had not, but I found out he lived in Berkeley and I called him up anyway. I told him our college was bilingual, and I was not, but I would like to find a cute, funny play our students would identify with. He told me he had the perfect play, and he sent me six copies, immediately. As soon as I read it, I called him and said, ‘You’re right. This is our play.’”
A Mexican-American novelist, playwright and poet born in 1952 in Fresno, Calif., Soto’s work portrays the lives of Mexican-Americans with realism and affection. Having grown up in the San Joaquin valley where his family chopped beets and picked grapes, Soto returns to his heritage for subject material.
“He loves writing using Spanish and English,” Van Hessen said, describing the result as “rich and melodic manipulation of language and feeling.” That said, “Novio Boy” is accessible to both English- and Spanish-speakers.
“It’s so well-written, no actor should be afraid if they can’t speak Spanish,” she said. Nor should lack of theater experience deter those who are interested in auditioning.
“There is absolutely no need to think you ever had to take an acting class to try out for this play,” Van Hessen said. “I will take care of that for you. If you’ve never been on stage before, come on out for auditions on Sept. 7 and 8.”
“I hope all the students that embrace their bicultural heritage will come to the audition. And all community members and students of any nationality, too,” she said. “The play offers a universal theme of friendship and love. There’s some pride, some laughter, some romance, I chose it because I thought it would lift the spirits of our Hispanic community and bring back the fact that we’re all one.”
The engaging characters and short scenes will appeal to all audience members, no matter their ethnic background. Auditions in the SCCC Showcase Theater are set for 5 to 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 7, and noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8.
For more information, contact Van Hessen at 620-417-1460, or by email at [email protected]