Before he could write ‘¡Gaytino!,’ Dan Guerrero first had to find his roots
rich lopez | Staff Writer
Growing up gay and Latino can be a tough hand to play. In a culture that revels in religion and machismo — hell, the word “machismo” is Latino — coming out poses pitfalls.
But Dan Guerrero lucked out. With some artsy upbringing by a musician dad and a not-so-practicing Catholic background, Guerrero’s closet was easy to open. In fact, it was harder for him just to be Hispanic.
“Los Angeles never made me feel like I was good enough,” he says. “I fell in love with musicals in junior high. I wanted to hear Julie Andrews in Camelot! Who gives a rat’s ass about mariachi?”
His dad might have given one. He was famed musician Lala Guerrero, the father of Chicano music who popularized the Pachuco sound in the 1940s (the beats most associated with Zoot suits and swing dancing). While Guerrero appreciated his father’s legacy, he established his own identity by moving to New York to become an actor. That didn’t work out so much, but becoming an agent did.
“It was kind of by accident, but I ended up being an agent for 15 years,” he says. “I got into producing and I loved it.”
Although he stepped away from performing, Guerrero finds himself back onstage Friday and Saturday at the Latino Cultural Center with ¡Gaytino! The autobiographical one-man show is part comedy, part cabaret, with Guerrero recounting in lyrics and punch lines his experiences growing up gay and Latino, life with father … and having to rediscover his roots after moving back to L.A.
“The main reason I did the show is, I wanted to know more about my dad and my best friend. I was already fabulous,” he laughs. “So I don’t think of this as my story. I wanted to embrace his legacy and celebrate him and our lives, but also tell of being a born-again Hispanic.”
In L.A., Guerrero rediscovered his heritage. While still working in entertainment, he noticed a lack of Latinos behind the scenes. He started a column in Dramalogue to change that, interviewing actors like Jimmy Smits and Salma Hayek and producing shows that spoke to Latin audiences.
And then came ¡Gaytino!
“Well, the word itself hit me first so I trademarked it. Then it was madness as I set about writing it,” he says.
When the show debuted in 2005, Guerrero hadn’t performed in 35 years. He was a different man, no longer a young buck with nothing to lose and untarnished optimism. He was a behind-the-scenes producer and casting agent. He was — gasp! — older.
“I remember thinking, ‘What am I gonna do? What if I forget my lines?’ I’m an old codger,” he says. “But I got onstage and it was like I had did it the day before. Performing is just part of who I am.”
With his successful day job (he once repped a young Sarah Jessica Parker), a healthy relationship (32 years this November) and irons in many other fires, why bother with the daunting task of writing a show and carrying it alone?
“It still feels like I’m breaking into show business. At least when you’ve been around as long as I have, you can get the main cheese by phone,” he answers. “But really, I had something I wanted to say and I love doing it. I’ve been lucky to stay in the game this long but it’s not by accident; it’s all been by design.”
What he loves isn’t just doing his show, but how it pushes positive gay Latino images. He’s dedicated this chapter in his life to that. Guerrero now feels parental toward the younger generation — maybe because he has no children of his own.
“I do feel a responsibility and not just to younger people, but to all,” he says. “For ¡Gaytino!, I first want them entertained, but I hope audiences will leave more educated about some Chicano culture and history and Gaytino history.”
QUEER CLIP: ‘BEGINNERS’
Beginners is such a dreadfully forgettable and generic title for what is the year’s most engaging and heartfelt comedy, you feel like boycotting a review until the distributor gives it a title it deserves.
Certainly the movie itself — a quirky, humane and fantastical reverie about the nature of love and family, with Ewan McGregor as a doleful graphic artist who, six months after his mother dies, learns his 75-year-old dad (Christopher Plummer) is gay and wants to date — charts its own course (defiantly, respectfully, beautifully), navigating the minefield of relationships from lovers to parent/child with simple emotions. It’s not a movie that would presume to answer the Big Questions (when do you know you’ve met the right one? And if they aren’t, how much does that matter anyway?); it’s comfortable observing that we’re all in the same boat, and doing our best is good enough.
McGregor’s placid befuddlement over how he should react to things around him — both his father’s coming out and a flighty but delightful French actress (Melanie Laurent) who tries to pull him out of his shell — is one of the most understated and soulful performances of his career. (His relationship with Arthur, his father’s quasi-psychic Jack Russell, is winsome and winning without veering into Turner & Hooch idiocy.) But Plummer owns the film.
Plummer, best known for his blustery, villainous characters (even the heroic ones, like Capt. Von Trapp and Mike Wallace), exudes an aura of wonder and discovery as the septuagenarian with the hot younger boyfriend (Goran Visnjic, both exasperating as cuddly). As he learns about house music at a time when his contemporaries crave Lawrence Welk, you’re wowed by how the performance seethes with the lifeforce of someone coming out and into his own. His energy is almost shaming.
Writer/director Mike Mills’ semi-autobiographical film suffers only being underlit and over too quickly. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to spend more time with these folks.
—Arnold Wayne Jones
Rating: Four and half stars
Now playing at Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2011.