Fukú Americanus

When Sean San José told Junot Diaz that he wanted to adapt Diaz's novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao for the stage, Diaz replied, "Good fucking luck, bro." Given the two had collaborated before, his comment seems more like a blessing than skeptism. Perhaps Diaz, who spent 11 years writing the novel, was hinting at the challenge ahead.

Fukú Americanus, directed by San José and Marc Bamuthi Joséph at Intersection for the Arts, centers on the lives of Dominican immigrants growing up in Northern New Jersy during the 1980s. The play retains the novel's mix of sci-fi, hip-hop, and historical references, but the book's violence is toned down on stage. The cast is strong, equally skilled with comic and poignant moments. The play's short scenes look more choreographed than blocked, often flowing together with transitions provided by a narrator, Fukú, a character who doesn't appear in the novel. Think: a younger, funkier, vagabond-version of Our Town's Stage Manager.

The concept of Fukú is defined in Wao as "the Curse and the Doom of the New World." The character on stage is more inviting / less menacing than that. Early in the play he delivers what might have been my favorite line of the evening: "There may be some of this you don't understand, but that's part of it."

Someone's story doesn't need to be 100% comprehensible for it to be worth knowing. I doubt any audience member walked in with perfect knowledge of the Diaz lexicon--it's that diverse. As someone roughly the same age as Diaz, I felt clued into the pop culture references but the dialogue in Spanish simply washed over me. Still, the play's physical and emotional momentum carried me along, and that feeling (being forced to look for meaning in context, tone, body language, facial expressions...) may have brought me closer to Oscar's experience--being a stranger in a strange land. That's what I think Fukú meant by "that's part of it."

For locals: the show has been selling out, and the run has been extended until July 12.

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The Cast: Carlos Aguire (Yunior), Maria Candelaria (Moms), Vanessa Cota (Lola), Biko Eise-Martin (Fukú), Anna Maria Luera (La Inca), and Brian Rivera (Oscar).
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For more: read SF Chronicle's preview, which included Diaz's "good luck" line.
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From the SF Guardian review.
Act one of Fukú Americanus, Campo Santo's adaptation of Pulitzer prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, explodes across the stage like a Caribbean hurricane.... The second act...is less cohesive...and unlike the book, does not resolve itself in Oscar's ultimate tragedy, which is a little like ending Hamlet before the duel. Denied both his tragic end, and his triumphal devirginization, Oscar's role in this adaptation is less that of anti-hero, than one of hapless foil in the larger sweep of fukú's pitiless influence. (N. Gluckstern)
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From the NYT's review of Wao.
Junot Díaz’s Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a wondrous, not-so-brief first novel that is so original it can only be described as Mario Vargas Llosa meets “Star Trek” meets David Foster Wallace meets Kanye West. M. Kakutani's full review.
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Diaz discusses the character of Oscar at the Sydney Writer’s Festival

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p.s. to the Colbert clip: The Day of the Triffids is a post-apocalyptic novel written in 1951 by the English science fiction author John Wyndham. Tiffids are a highly venomous (fictional) plant species and the titular antagonists of Wyndham's novel.

1 comment:

sharock said...

oh man, i read this book recently and loved it. too bad i'm going ot miss the play. :(