The Best of J Hernandez
In 1996, Floridian Ricardo Lopez mailed a bomb to Icelandic singer Bjork, then shot himself in front of a video camera, his falling body revealing the words “The best of me” on the wall behind him. Theater artist J Hernandez takes these words as the title for his entry into the Simpatico Theatre’s 2018 Fringe Festival show, 4Solo. Cowritten with Amanda Schoonover, “The Best of Me” is one of four solo pieces by male artists contemplating masculinity in America and exploring the repercussions of our hyper-gendered society.
FringeArts: What inspired “The Best of Me”?
J Hernandez: I don’t know. On accident I read the story of Ricardo Lopez which led me to the 18 hours of footage he recorded over the period of 9 months before he shot himself in front of a rolling camcorder. His isolation, his issues with mental illness, his loneliness as an artist, his struggle in finding his own cultural identity in America being a child of immigrants, and his hang ups with his own skin, it led me to believe that that Ricardo and I aren’t so dissimilar … and I found that frightening … but it’s almost typical for any Latnix man who’s felt “different” or felt that they “don’t belong.”
There’s a pecking order in the Latinx community, men, women, cat, dog, it doesn’t matter, and it takes its toll on a good number of us. Ricardo’s story isn’t wholly about a man who stalked a celebrity … stalking the celebrity gave him the excuse he needed to take his own life … you don’t see stories like this from a brown person’s perspective. It made me sad. It made me think. It made me want to sit down and write.
FringeArts: How does it fit with the other pieces in the show?
J Hernandez: These are all pieces starring men, but the stories we’re telling aren’t what we normally imagine when we think of your standard male-driven narrative.
FringeArts: Why do you think it’s important for men to take responsibility for and discuss sexism, masculinity, and gender issues in America?
J Hernandez: To know of the conversation is to be aware. To listen/take part in the conversation is to be informed. Now, the challenge in discussing sexism and forms of masculinity here in America is that these issues/talking points, more often than not, become cyclical. There’s no moving forward, we make progress, but then seem to 180 before we know it. That’s not opinion, that’s just history.
FringeArts: You first came to Philadelphia a few years ago to act in a single show. What encouraged you to stick around?
J Hernandez: The community, really, it’s fairly welcoming. There’s also somewhat of a lack of Latinx performers and representation here, and in my singular capacity along with a handful of others, I’m trying my best to change that.
FringeArts: From your perspective, what role does Fringe play in the local theater scene?
J Hernandez: It opens up an avenue of theater and other forms of art that wouldn’t be produced otherwise. We have a good handful of hardworking theaters here in town and we have a whole lot of artists with stories to tell, but if the pieces that these artists create don’t match a particular theater’s brand, vision, or identity, more than likely they’re not going to be produced within a standard performance season. Fringe changes all of that, some of the best theater I’ve seen here in Philly’s been from Fringe.
FringeArts: We agree! What else are you looking forward to this Festival?
J Hernandez: Svaha Theatre Collective’s production of Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love. It should be pretty sweet. Haven’t had the opportunity to see Amanda Schoonover on stage for a bit, so I’ll be there, heh, I’m a big fan.
FringeArts: So are we! Thanks J.
What: Simpatico Theatre Projectx: 4Solo
When: September 19 – 30, 2018
Where: Proscenium Theatre at the Drake, 302 South Hicks Street
Cost: Pay what you decide!
Created by Armando “Mando” Batista, Thomas Choinacky, Jeremy Gable, J Hernandez