Comic book hero El Coqui stars in new Latino play at NJ’S Two River Theater

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El Coqui, a small nocturnal arboreal frog native to Puerto Rico with a  high-pitched call that was introduced into Hawaii and southern Florida, now has invaded New Jersey.

But in this case El Coquí is a human-sized Puerto Rican superhero who gets his power from a vejigante carnival mask in the world premiere play “El Coquí Espectacular and the Bottle of Doom” at the Two River Theater in Red Bank now through Feb. 4.

Written by Matt Barbot and directed by Jose  Zayas, the play questions individual and national identity and explores what it means to be Latino or not Latino enough in contemporary America via the superhero/comic book genre.

Alex, an unemployed young comic book artist is still wrestling with the death of his policeman father in the line of duty.  Adrift in his career and his life, he decides to see what it’s like to be a superhero and begins to dress as his creation, El Coquí Espectacular,  and fight crime in his Brooklyn neighborhood of Sunset Park.

Meanwhile, his responsible older brother Joe is encouraging Alex to join him at his advertising agency, where Joe sells sugary soda to Latino consumers. When he is fired from a project, the two, with the help of a young photographer named Yesica, hatch a plan: debut El Coquí at the Puerto Rican Day Parade and prove themselves to the world.

 The play opens at 7 tonight (Jan. 12) in the intimate black box Marion Huber Theater, a second stage at Two River, 21 Bridge Ave., Red Bank.  Tickets are available at 732-345-1400 or at tworivertheater.org .  The running time is 90 minutes, no intermission.

“El Coquí Espectácular and the Bottle of Doom “was a finalist in the 2014 Repertorio Español Nuestras Voces competition, and won the Kennedy Center’s Darrel Ayers Award for Outstanding Student-Written Play for Young Audiences, as well as the Kennedy Center’s Latinidad Award for Outstanding Play Written by a Student of Latino/Hispanic Heritage. It was also a finalist in Repertorio Español’s 2013 Nuestras Voces competition.

THE CREATIVES

The cast of “El Coquí Espectacular and the Bottle of Doom” includes Gabriel Diego Hernández (El Chupacabra/Junior), Olivia Negrón (Patricia), Flor De Liz Perez (Yesica), Cesar J. Rosado (Joe), and Bradley Tejeda (Alex).

The creative team includes scenic designer Arnulfo Maldonado, costume designer Ásta Bennie Hostetter, lighting designer Zach Blane, sound designer Jane Shaw, and projections/animation designer Alex Koch. The fight direction is by UnkleDave’s Fight-House, the casting is by Jack Doulin + Sharky, and the stage manager is Terri K. Kohler.

“Matt Barbot is a playwright with a unique and exciting voice,” says TRT artistic director John Dias. “Super-smart, super-cheeky and super-honest, his ‘El Coquí’ examines what it means to be Latino in America in a deeply personal and very funny way.

“What is a wannabe hero to do when he’s considered a ‘sorta-Rican:’ raised in America by immigrant parents, feeling disconnected from the Latino community (and barely speaking Spanish), but still seen as Latino by the majority of the country,” Dias says. “It’s a play for all of us who long to connect to our roots, embrace our culture and let our inner superheroes soar.”

“El Coquí Espectacular and the Bottle of Doom” is not new to all Red Bank audiences. It was read here as part of the theater’s 2016 Crossing Borders (Cruzando Fronteras) festival of new Latino plays.

Check out Discover Jersey Arts video feature about the show.

TICKET INFO

Ticket prices range from $40 to $70, with discounts available for groups, seniors, and U.S. military personnel, their families, and veterans. A limited number of $20 tickets are available for every performance; $20 tickets may be a partial view. Tickets for patrons age 29 and younger 30 are $20 and include the best available seats at each performance. Tickets are available from tworivertheater.org or 732-345-1400.

BOOK CLUB

“The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Dia, Monday, January 29 at 6:30pm in the Victoria J. Mastrobuono Library   In this celebrated 2007 novel, an overweight Dominican boy living in New Jersey is obsessed with sci-fi, fantasy, falling in love, and the curse that has plagued his family for generations. In connection with El Coquí Espectacular and the Bottle of Doom, the Two River Book Club will discuss the experiences of immigrants in America who feel caught between two cultures, and don’t fully fit in with either. This event is free and open to the public. To reserve a spot, interested patrons should call 732.345.1400 or visit www.tworivertheater.org.

AUDIENCE EXTRAS

Before Play and Lobby Display

Audiences will learn about “El Coquí Espectacular and the Bottle of Doom” in Two River’s Before Play lecture series, which takes place 45 minutes prior to every performance, and Lobby Display.

POST-PLAY PERFORMANCE

Discussions with the cast and a member of Two River’s Artistic staff will take place on Wednesday, January 17 at 1pm; Sunday, January 21 at 3pm; and Wednesday, January 24 at 7pm.

ACCESSIBILITY

Working with Google, Two River has created and launched a virtual tour of its facility, which lives on Google Maps and tworivertheater.org. This virtual tour provides an additional level of support and benefit for patrons who use wheelchairs or require other assistance by allowing them to virtually come through the theater’s front doors and view the space in detail in advance of their visit.

 An audio-described performance is scheduled for Wednesday, January 21 at 1pm, and an open-captioned performance is scheduled for Saturday, February 3 at 3pm. Tickets are available at a discounted rate of $25 for patrons using these services. To reserve wheelchair-accessible seating or tickets to a performance listed above, patrons should call 732.345.1400 or e-mail boxoffice@trtc.org.

 PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE

Friday, January 12 at 7pm (Opening Night)

Saturday, January 13 at 3pm and 8pm

Sunday, January 14 at 3pm

Wednesday, January 17 at 1pm and 7pm

Thursday, January 18 at 10am (student matinee) and 8pm

Friday, January 19 at 8pm

Saturday, January 20 at 3pm and 8pm

Sunday, January 21 at 3pm

Wednesday, January 24 at 1pm and 7pm

Thursday, January 25 at 10am (student matinee) and 8pm

Friday, January 26 at 8pm

Saturday, January 27 at 3pm and 8pm

Sunday, January 28 at 3pm

Wednesday, January 31 at 1pm and 7pm

Thursday, February 1 at 10am (student matinee) and 8pm

Friday, February 2 at 8pm

Saturday, February 3 at 3pm and 8pm

Sunday, February 4 at 3pm