“Latin Standards,” which is Marga Gomez’s 12th solo show — and, she tells us, her “final farewell concert” — is a hilarious memoir, part of this year’s Under The Radar festival. “I’ve been under the radar for 30 years,” she says, after introducing herself as Cuban, Puerto Rican and lesbian: “I don’t want to surprise any out-of-towners….Mike Pence could be here.”
But more than a stand-up routine of topical humor, the show is a coming-of-age tale that pays touching tribute to her father, who went by the stage name Willy Chevalier. A singer, songwriter, impresario, and comedian, Chevalier (born Willy Gomez) was a fixture in the Latin nightclub circuit in New York of the 1950s and 60’s.
His daughter punctuates her stories with projected photographs of her family. There is her father, a Cuban charmer with a pencil mustache, an immaculate dresser who wore a pocket handkerchief and smoked with a cigarette holder. Next to him is Marga’s mother (whom she never names in the show but which an Internet search reveals as Margarita Estremera) – the kind of person who, by the evidence of the photographs, used to be called a blonde bombshell; Marga describes her as “a dancer who wanted to be an actress and grew up poor in the slums of Puerto Rico.”
The title of the show refers to the Spanish-language songs that her father composed (“En Ultimo Escalon” and “De Mi Para Ti,” for example.) Rather than sing the songs, she introduces them, explaining how they came to be, and then, while we hear them via recording, she recites their lyrics in English.
People used to remark on how much the daughter resembled her father – “Willy Chevalier without the mustache” — and Gomez drives home the similarities with her parallel tale of her breaking in as a stand-up comic at a gay Latino drag bar in San Francisco called Esta Noche.
Esta Noche is no more – its New York equivalent, Esquelita, has also shut down — and we sense a parallel here, too, in her father’s struggles to keep going after the disappearance of the Latin nightclubs in New York. There are priceless scenes of Willy painstakingly teaching his young daughter how to make coffee –“Most important Marga: The cafe has to be Cafe Bustelo…Café El Pico is mierda” – and then of Willy making sure Marga wakes him up at the ungodly hour of noon so that he can make it to an audition as the spokesman for Café El Pico.
In “Latin Standards,” Marga Gomez offers nostalgia for what once was – and also for what may soon no longer be. “This is the first time I’ve gotten out of bed since November 8,” she says, before making pointing jokes about the threats of deportation.
Gomez says she will stop doing solo shows because “I think I might possibly have peaked in 1997 when I played Jane Edmunds in Sphere” – a movie role in which she received at least a good several seconds of screen time.
Once senses, though, that Margo might secretly be as optimistic and persistent as her father Willy, especially when she tells us: “Sign my mailing list so you never miss any of my future Final Farewell Concerts.”
Latin Standards is on stage at the Public Theater through January 15.