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Guillermo Gomez-Pena is a West Coast performance artist and writer best known for his incisive, serious-but-funny-but-serious insights into cross-border culture clashes between Mexicans and Americans.
Reverend Billy is the latest incarnation of a New York resident and experimental theater veteran; the main representative of the Church of Life After Shopping, he employs a Billy Graham-esque zeal in exhorting watchers to abandon consumerism.
Tonight and tomorrow night, the two will share the stage in “The Two Churches” at GALA Hispanic Theatre in Columbia Heights—but what the outcome will look like is anyone’s guess. The longtime performers met in the Bay Area twenty years ago and have been friends since then, but they only started talking about the concept of a joint show last year.
“We’d been conversing about the possibility of comparing notes onstage—having a reflection of the times, take the temperature of the psyche of the country onstage,” said Gomez-Pena.
He mentioned the idea to the programming folks at the GALA and they gave him the go-ahead. So this week, Gomez-Pena and the Rev (real name: Bill Talen) have taken time off from their busy teaching/writing/speaking out calendars and are spending hours every day at the theater, figuring out how to share the stage.
“We’re not developing the material,” explained Gomez-Pena. “We’re sampling from a lifetime of work, creating a shared framing device and a system to coexist onstage. So it’ll be like a performance and a poetic dialogue between two artist friends, a reflection on our times and our lives.”
Like all good performance art, Gomez-Pena’s shows invariably incorporate his personal take on larger issues. Reverend Billy, meanwhile, speaks out about corporations and the media’s ability to shape our lives. So audience members can expect a mélange of the two styles, a show that doesn’t shy away from big questions but seeks a way to incorporate the answers into the performers’ individual paths.
It’s an experiment. If it works, it’ll be replicated down the line and shown in New York, San Francisco, and Mexico City.
“The Two Churches” shows Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18-$20.
Photos by X Tavera and Fred Askew