For most people, recovery time after surgery is spent laying in bed, indulging in simple pleasures like comfort food, old-time favorite movies and pharmaceuticals, but not for Ricardo Melendez.  Instead, he wrote a “gender-bending,” socially questioning, and intelligently humorous play, Cloaked.

“Attracted” many years ago by Francisco Ors’ controversial and forbidden play Contradanza, Melendez refocused the play by eliminating the Queen Elizabeth main character that Ors used.  “At first I was thinking that maybe we could do an adaptation of the play, but the idea of Queen Elizabeth has changed from the 70s (when the play was written), to now.”  But the plots still coincide with one another.  Still set in the Renaissance period, a queen must make a decision that will expose her true identity that she is in fact a man.  In a time when capital punishment was the chastisement for homosexuality, the queen questions the morality in putting a young gay man to death.

Sitting in Alatte Café—the bona fide spot for anyone with a vein of creativity—Melendez, poised and beaming with excitement, ever-so humbly tells me that he will be playing the queen.  “I am nervous, not because of fear, but because of anticipation.”  Melendez, who recently won the Best Actor Award at the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, has a walk-the-line type of attitude about how this play will be received in Hampton Roads.  Will it just be looked at as a play about gays?  Or will Cloaked be revered for the many questions it begs the audience about religion, politics, truth, society, right and wrong?  And will it be well received?  “If there will be protests outside the theater, at least they know where we are,” laughs Melendez.  Melendez explains to me that the gender-bending element of the play is no more than a tool to expose the fact that there are people with power who condemn the truth and who they really are.  And the play questions whether or not these authoritarians are really doing what is conducive for a better society.

One might call Melendez a modern day Oscar Wilde as the co-founder and co-artistic director of Hampton Roads’ most promising new theatre company, Workshop Theater Group.  “I’ve always had this constant quest of understanding social issues in America,” the Puerto Rican native says with an inquisitive smile.  Melendez examined what it is like to be a Puerto Rican in America with his play Boricua—the native name for Puerto Ricans.  As a person who lives and breathes his craft, Melendez’s deep Catholic upbringing is also reflected in Cloaked, “I love the storytelling in the Catholic Bible,” he says.  The play is pseudo-historical and brilliantly mirrors today’s society.  But fear not, the cleaver tongue and wit, intertwined with sexual innuendoes, will make this play “fun.”    

Cloaked had its world premier on April 8 at the Benjack Studio at the TR Dance Center in Norfolk.  The play is an official entry at the 2011 International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival.  Always a proponent of local talent and community, Melendez partners again with director Steve J. Earle and will have an original score by Governor’s School for the Arts music director Chip Gallagher.  The April 10 performance of Cloaked benefitted Equality for Virginia. Cloaked will run through April 23 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Click here for more information.

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