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Latin in Manhattan

Cheech Marin directs Latinologues on Broadway logo
Cheech Marin (second from left) with the cast of Latinologues:
Rick Najera, Eugenio Derbez, Shirley A. Rumierk, and Rene Lavan
(Photo © Alan Mercer)
Cheech Marin was once part of the counterculture, starring in a series of stoner films as one half of the groundbreaking comedy act Cheech & Chong. Now, Marin is directing on Broadway, bringing his name and experience to bear on Rick Najera's award-winning comedy Latinologues.

The play is a series of monologues revealing the Latino experience in America. "Rick, in his writing, explores the depth of what is behind the stereotypes and then explodes them," says Marin. "That's what I like about the piece. It starts out with a Mexican-American border guard, which is already a contradiction in terms. The show challenges existing thoughts about stereotypes, and Rick uses these characters to explore different issues."

The Broadway production, starring Najera along with Eugenio Derbez, Rene Lavan, and Shirley A. Rumierk, opens on October 13 at the Helen Hayes -- but the show has played numerous venues around the country before coming to New York. "Latinos are a growing force," says Marin. "We are the number one minority in this country now, and it's a diverse ethnicity. 'Latino' is defined as those of Latin heritage from Mexico, South America, and Central America. In New York, we're playing to all those nationalities, and the show addresses every single one of them."

Latinologues marks Marin's stage directing debut. "I was born to do this," he states. "All my experiences kind of played right into it: I knew about staging, I knew about lighting, I knew about acting, so it was actually a lot of fun. I had a great time creating the backgrounds and helping with the lighting, the pacing, and the music. And I liked working with the actors on individual pieces to discover things that were heretofore undiscovered."

One of the most challenging and memorable aspects of the creative process was finding a proper ending for the piece. "The hardest thing to do with any work of comedy is to have the last line be the funniest," says Marin. "We kept working towards it and working towards it, but the ending we came up with wasn't really good, so Rick wrote a new piece about a funeral. That tied up all the characters' relationships."

Marin is quite proud of the Cheech and Chong oeuvre, which includes such films as Up in Smoke (1978), Nice Dreams (1981), Things Are Tough All Over (1982), and Still Smokin' (1983). "I love Cheech and Chong," he avows. "It's something really positive that has become part of the American culture." However, he doesn't have much contact with former partner Tommy Chong these days, and he denies the rumor that he's working on a musical version of Up in Smoke. (Asked if he would consider it, he did reply, "Sure, I'd consider it. I'd consider anything!")

Since the duo's breakup, Marin has worked steadily in film and TV, appearing in Christmas with the Kranks, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and the Spy Kids movies. On the small screen, he co-starred with Don Johnson in the CBS drama Nash Bridges and played Tyne Daly's love interest on Judging Amy. His theater experience is more limited. In fact, though he and Chong performed live in the heyday of their comedy act, he notes that, "strictly speaking, I've only done one other play as an actor. That was the premiere of The Late Henry Moss [by Sam Shepard] out in San Francisco. It was an all-star cast -- me and Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Jimmy Gammon, Sheila Tousey, and Woody Harrelson. Sam Shepard came down and directed it. That was great."

Marin has several projects in the works. "There are a couple of movies that I'm going to direct as soon as the scripts get done, and some other TV offers that I'm looking to do, and some movies," he says. "And I'm in Cars, the new Pixar animated flick, doing one of the voices. It will be out next summer."

But for now, the focus is on Latinologues, which Marin hopes will draw a Latino audience durings its limited run through December 4. "It's a very sophisticated piece that plays to their highest intelligence," says Marin. "Our job is to get those people into the seats. If they want to be represented on Broadway and have a continuing presence, it's important to support plays like this."

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