Jonald Jude Reyes is a Writer, Performer & Director in Chicago, IL. His works have been performed in various theaters city-wide, including Stage 773, The Annoyance, and The Second City. In 2016, he was named Best of Stage Director by the Chicago Reader and was selected to the DirectorsLabChicago program. Learn more at http://www.jonaldjude.com.
Brian Quijada in WHERE DID WE SIT ON THE BUS. Photo by Joel Maisonet.
By Jonald Jude Reyes
WHERE DID WE SIT ON THE BUS has only one table and one chair on stage. The white floor is bare, transcending a neutrality. Brian Quijada is the only performer and he has no costumes nor a band. With remarkable simplicity, the complexity of this immigration story is delivered with such strong passion & charisma. With so much music and image projection, the ebb and flow of Quijada’s performance are smooth and theatrical. This production, Directed by Chay Yew, reminds us how great theater’s foundation is for good storytelling and committed acting.
In Victory Gardens’ new Up Close & Personal Series, solo artists reveal intimate tales of their triumph over personal struggles. WHERE DID WE SIT ON THE BUS is Brian Quijada’s take on being a first-generation Latino-American and his journey to become an actor. What unravels beyond this premise is the search for identity and understanding the difference between knowing where you came from and fitting into what is comfortable for you.
On the one table is a microphone, a ukulele, and a looping system, to which Quijada masterfully creates beatboxing tracks. At the top of the show, he composes his first underscore and delivers dialogue in rhyme. Right away, he captures the attention of the audience through his ability to make the music and speak in head bopping syncopation. It starts with a love story about proposing to his current fiance. He starts with this relationship to tangentially explore their thoughts of having children and how to teach their child about their family history. Quijada writes this entire show with biting humor, and when he breaks out of a song to speak in straight dialogue, it truly displays his wide range, falling into characters like his mother, father, and teacher.
Quijada starts the story of his life all the way back to his mother & father having sex and him being created from a swimming sperm. Funny vocal sound effects and amazing lighting sequences show us his birth. It’s truly captivating to see the subtle swings from high-energy physicality, to grounded moments, to him playing his mother, and then to him returning to storytelling. The control he displays presents a beautiful mix of theatricality and charismatic silliness.
When he gets to third grade, he is being taught about Rosa Parks by Mrs. Mizelli. When learning about segregation, he, as a Latino-American, raises his hand and asks the question “Where did we sit on the bus?” Stumped by her student, Mrs. Mizelli ignorantly says they weren’t around yet. This threw Quijada into a bigger search of identity. His story is quite familiar if you’re a first generation child belonging to parents who have immigrated to America in search of the American Dream. Growing up in the suburbs of Illinois, he fell into the comfort of hanging out with more Caucasian friends than other Latinx peers. An assimilation occurs, and there’s a perception that race isn’t a personal issue. So when finally hanging out with other Latinx friends, they sternly tell him to “don’t forget where you came from.” As a child that grew up speaking Spanish and learning salsa dance moves, it didn’t occur to him as a problem. WHERE DID WE SIT ON THE BUS encapsulates this identity quandary, understanding that line between being a Latinx versus being a Latinx-American.
Quijada’s story takes an interesting turn when he starts to get into his love of performing. Never getting completely meta, he starts by explaining how he developed his dance moves. Brian loves Michael Jackson, and when he combines Jackson’s moves with salsa finesse, he gains a confidence that gets him wanting more ‘stage time.’ This other plot line of becoming an actor through his high school days and weaving into his love of Jackson breaks down this other layer that he states so eloquently. He was “a brown boy, wanting to be a black boy, who wanted to be a white boy.”
WHERE DID WE SIT ON THE BUS is a charming story told with great emotion by a talented actor. Brian Quijada shows us his version of finding true identity as a minority and skillfully interlaces it with his performer strengths. The music, the dancing, and the acting truly exemplify the range of this actor, and by this being such a personal story, the vulnerable moments are that much more touching. I’d be lying if I said certain people didn’t cry at the end of this show.