Marga Gomez in Los Big Names
(Photo © Pat Johnson)
Marga Gomez in Los Big Names
(Photo © Pat Johnson)
You may be growing weary of one-person shows; we know that we are. Still, you have to see the hilarious and heartbreaking Los Big Names, written and performed by Marga Gomez.

This intermissionless show, tightly directed by David Schweizer, has its roots in the New York Latino entertainment scene of the 1950s and '60s, when her mother and father, Willy Chevalier and Margarita, were headliners. As Gomez smartly demonstrates, all show business parents, regardless of their ethnic background, tend to come in one flavor: self-absorbed. The comic stakes in their complicated familial relationship are raised when Willy and Margarita demand to know which of them little Marga, their only child, loves more. The problem for Marga isn't getting the answer right; it's that no matter how much she loves her parents, they love themselves more. Thus begins her quest for attention, as she determines to become an entertainer herself.

The centerpiece of Los Big Names comes when she is cast in Barry Levinson's science fiction film Sphere, starring Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, and Samuel L. Jackson. Contrary to the usual casting of Latino women as whores or maids, Gomez gets to play a computer technician alongside Queen Latifah. Despite her Latin looks, her character is given the name Jane Edmunds. The comic mileage she gets out of that name and the title of the film is staggering, but these satiric riffs are justaposed with the dramatic story of a woman from a small-time show business family making her way into a big Hollywood movie.

The play is all the richer because it's not simply about showbiz. Though the evocative set and projection design by Alexander Nichols stress that motif, Los Big Names fundamentally concerns the deeply human desire to honor one's parents while claiming one's own life. It's also about honoring your heritage while moving beyond it. All of these issues culminate with Gomez's adult journey back to the home where she grew up, shortly after her mother has passed away; it's a stunning sequence, devastating in its emotional reality and breathtaking in its overlay of fantasy.

The show is steeped in Latino ethnicity, yet it's founded in clearly defined characters rather than stereotypes. The portrayals of her father and mother are broad but never descend into caricature. A master at making an audience instantly switch from laughter to tears, Marga Gomez is a one-person talent pool.