A Reach for Cheech

Special Features   A Reach for Cheech
 
Cheech Marin of Cheech & Chong fame goes mainstream, donning a director's hat for Latinologues.
Cheech Marin at a preview performance of Latinologues.
Cheech Marin at a preview performance of Latinologues. Photo by Aubrey Reuben

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Have you checked out Cheech Marin lately? The shorter, squatter half of Cheech & Chong fame and infamy is now so far removed from his stoner persona of the late 70's-early 80's he's starting to emerge — this is no hallucination! — a Broadway director.

Marin's own word for his startling metamorphosis is "flabbergasted." Like the rest of us, he figured he'd make his Main Stem bow (should such opportunity ever present itself) in one or all of the guises for which he is known — actor, comedian, musician — but no! Here he is behind the footlights, calling the shots for Latinologues, sawing up and reassembling an assortment of nine monologues till they resemble a plausible Broadway offering, which he will officially offer October 13 for a limited engagement through Dec. 4 at the Helen Hayes Theatre.

Helen Hayes and Cheech Marin, in the same breath. You see? There is life after reefer madness — a new life and, as it were, a new leaf — but, as Marin connects the dots, it's a curiously logical quantum leap. He's a friend of Rick Najera, who wrote these comedic and poignant meditations on the Latino experience in America, and his new direction is a simple act of friendship, viewing the piece through "another eye" and making his contribution to the show.

"I've only seen it once," the new director admits. "I saw exactly what was there, and I saw what I could bring to it — so I told them to start the process. First, there was no kind of narrative — just a bunch of brilliant individual monologues without any kind of connective tissue. It was as if somebody had dumped a bag of jewels on the stage. 'Oh, they are really beautiful jewels.' 'Yeah, but you need to put them in a necklace.' That's what I did." Eugenio Derbez, a popular TV star here and in Mexico, heads the cast of four who carve up the sketches. (The other three are author Najera, Rene Lavan and a New York discovery, Shirley A. Rumierk.) English is spoken here, but in a variety of Latin accents. "I reassigned some of the roles," says Marin, "because this is going to play to an audience that knows the difference between a Cuban, a Puerto Rican, a Dominican, a Mexican and a Chicano. I could tell if the actors were 'out of tune' with the roles. It's my musician's ear at work.

There have been over 100 people come through this cast over the years. It has been traveling around the country about eight years — San Diego, Portland, San Antonio, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, Los Angeles — and always the same process is described to me. It's word of mouth, and it spreads quickly so, by the end of the run, they sell out. I'm not surprised. It plays to an audience heretofore unrecognized in the mainstream media."

Now Marin's on Broadway, testing those untapped waters in New York. No dope, this gentleman.

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