Obie Award-winner Jojo Gonzalez (“White Collar,” The Smurfs Movie, The Romance of Magno Rubio) is currently appearing in 3rd Kulture Kids’ U.S. premiere of renowned French playwright Mohamed Kacimi’s acclaimed play Holy Land at HERE in New York through May 10. The cast also features Sean Carvajal, Ana Grosse, Gil Perez-Abraham Jr. and Pia Haddad.
Holy Land has been presented to critical acclaim in Paris, Vienna, Prague, London, Milan, Jerusalem, Rio de Janeiro, Stockholm and Hamburg. The U.S. premiere production is translated by award-winning NY-based playwright Chantal Bilodeau, with direction by Tracy Cameron Francis who has directed and developed work with NYTW, Williamstown Theatre Festival, LaMama Umbria (Italy), NY Arab American Comedy Festival, NY International Fringe and Falaki Theatre (Egypt). Based in Paris, Mohamed Kacimi was born in Algeria in a family of theologians; a poet, playwright, novelist, translator, journalist, he is also the president of Écritures du Monde – an organization that puts together international writing residencies.
The creative team includes Charles Coes (Sound Designer), Lisa Renee Jordan (Costume Designer), Sheryl Liu (Set Designer), Miguel Valderrama (Lighting Designer) and Laura Perez (Stage Manager).
In Mohamed Kacimi’s compelling and entertaining Holy Land, a raw and evocative tale of two families in a war ravaged city, bombs and gunfire are part of the daily soundtrack of their lives. A city under siege…the landscape is dusty, devastated. Carmen has disappeared at a checkpoint; her daughter, Imen (Pia Haddad), must face a soldier’s (Gil Perez-Abraham Jr.) house search alone. In the house next door, Alia (Ana Grosse), a midwife, prepares her coffee as if nothing else matters while Yad (Jojo Gonzalez), her husband, gets away from it all by smoking and drinking. The only hope seems to reside in Jesus: the cat. This dark and humorous story follows 5 characters hanging on to the banality of day-to-day life, at times to the point of insanity, as a way to transcend the atrocities of war.
I caught up with Jojo at Holy Land’s opening night party at Babylon Hookah Lounge in New York to chat about the play.
Lia: How did Holy Land come to your attention?
Jojo: Tracy and I worked on The Seagull, many years ago with NAATCO. She was our assistant director. Over the years, we’ve been wanting to work with each other again. Our schedules didn’t jibe. She sent me the script. I read the first few pages and I just fell in love with it.
What drew you to the script?
Jojo: It’s the simplicity of the language. It’s the complexity of the characters, the complexity of the relationships between the characters. I love multi-layered characters. I was just blown away by it, the more we looked at it. The play is a very, very sad play. It’s happening, it’s very timely. For me, it’s the triumph of the human spirit. How do people who have been living in war, practically from childhood into adulthood, how do you survive? How do you keep your humanity, your sanity in that kind of a situation, where every little bit is important. The simplicity of breathing air is so important. It’s a celebration, and how they celebrate their lives. How they celebrate every single day as something else, and the backdrop of war is just the backdrop. It’s so routine, that when you hear somebody died, you keep going. It’s the complexity of those characters living in this situation that attracted to me it.
Lia: Can you describe your character?
Jojo: My character Yad came from a very rich family. He comes from old money, but when the war began- it’s not really written – but I imagine him being able to travel around a lot- because of his influence, he had money, because he had some kind of political influence. I kind of built this character around him, that he was an intelligence officer. At some point he was spying. His work was discovered and so he had to go into hiding. They took away everything that they had. He lost a lot. He lost many, many loved ones. His will to fight started to wane. He went to the other side and he just wants to celebrate life every single day. He doesn’t want to think about death. That’s his way of coping with the environment. I imagine him having PTSD. I imagine him having seeing many horrible things, he chooses to push that away. And celebrate what’s close. And value what’s close.
Lia: Have you or anyone that you’ve known experienced war first hand?
Jojo: My parents. They were children during the Second World War. My grandfather was in the rebel militia, in the resistance. He was one of top leaders. So during the war, they were hunting my family down. My mother was about 10 years old, and they were arrested by the Japanese. In the Philippines. Santa Rosa, Nueva Ecija . My father, because he was a radio announcer, and he was an actor as well, they were recruiting him, and they were going to send him to Japan. They were not collaborators, but because of his talent, they wanted to take him to Japan. Luckily, the U.S. came back and “liberated” the Philippines.
Lia: Would you say that your work as an actor is inspired by your family?
Jojo: Not necessarily. I am inspired by people overcoming adversity. I am inspired by works that are complex, story wise. I am inspired by the triumph of the human spirit in the face of enormous odds. I am inspired by courage. So I seek characters that are like that. I am fortunate that I’ve been able to do that and to play those characters. During the early years, I would get cast as the bad guy. It’s not the bad guy. Evil is a learned behavior. If I’m playing an evil character, I look for the good in that character, and build from that good and come to what pushed this character to this place.
Lia: What would you like audiences to come away with from seeing Holy Land?
Jojo: Because it’s happening, right now. The play is very timely. Because we all bleed red. We are on one planet. We are on the same planet and we are so cruel to each other. We do it in the name of wealth and power. Humans are the only species on Earth that have the ability to destroy the entire planet with a push of a button. And we are the only creatures on Earth that hoard resources for power and wealth. I don’t know of any other species that does that.
Lia:What would you like people to take away?
Jojo: Value life. Value each other.
Holy Land has performances through May 10 at HERE (145 Avenue of the Americas) with performances Wed.-Sat. at 7pm. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased online at www.HERE.org or by calling 212-352-3101. Box Office: open after 5pm on show days or 2 hours before any performance.
Running Time: 60 min
Mature content: not recommended for audiences under 16.
This production is an Equity Approved Showcase and is a part of SubletSeries@HERE, HERE’s curated rental program, which provides artists with subsidized space and equipment, as well as technical support.
3rd Kulture Kids is a theatre and film production company based in New York City, producing new/contemporary work created by the lost citizens of the world. 3K² will provide a home and a voice for multicultural artists, spreading its unique perspective on life. Precursors of the 22nd century, 3K² will generate stories that we can all call ours. For more information, visit www.3rdkulturekids.com.
Other articles about Jojo Gonzalez:
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Photos: Tina Chilip, Jojo Gonzalez, Dave Shih and More in NAATCO’s A Dream Play
NAATCO Presents A Dream Play at Here, March 22 – April 13, 2013
NAATCO’s All-Asian American cast for The Seagull features Marcus Ho, Mia Katigbak and Orville Mendoza
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Lucille Lortel Awards for Here Lies Love, Fun Home, The Open House, Good Person of Szechwan
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Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia made her jazz vocalist debut in Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York. All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2014 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at firstname.lastname@example.org