So much about this play is fixated and focused on items—objects, things, stuff. Juan talks about “making friends” when he settles down in New York for the first time; of course he’s referring to physically making little puppet friends out of cloth and wood and whatnot, which is essentially a solitary activity. In your personal experience, do you think that “making friends” in a big city like New York is treated as a commodity?


I think that if you have a friend in a city like this, you can consider yourself very lucky. It is especially hard to make friends when you immigrate as an adult. So, if you are lucky enough to get a real friend you can consider that friend a treasure.


A moment I loved in the play was when Juan constructed a “hand-clapping” machine out of a Duchamp bicycle wheel to manufacture the sound of hand claps as he performed his stand-up routine to his blind mother in an empty room. It was a very clever, ironic moment. It made me think of the phrase “loneliness in a crowd”. Do you think a stand-up routine is an inherently lonely activity? Why is it called “stand-up” anyway?


Yeah, I think stand-up comedy is a lonely activity… I am not an actual stand-up comedian, and maybe the reason for me not being one is that I might not be able to handle the loneliness; I am an actor and theatre is a comunal activity… I must admit that sometimes I envy stand-up comedians even if they are lonely… I guess the more people laugh at your jokes the less that loneliness bothers you.


“Humour is tragedy plus time”. I loved that line. Your play was so funny—and so incredibly sad at the same time. I recently had a discussion with a friend who is an aspiring stand-up comic, and we were trying to think of examples of comedy that didn’t have its roots in tragedy. We couldn’t think of any… Are there any?


I don’t know; if you consider everything that is considered “funny comedy”, then I guess a pun can be funny without being tragic. A joke can be funny without being tragic; however, in order for a joke to be profoundly funny, it has to contain some tragic element.


You must have read a lot of reviews on your play. Do you like it when critics impose their “smarts” on your work—when they sculpt their own interpretations of it in their reviews or try to whittle it down and reduce it to a “core of truth”? When they argue that “this is what Vega is trying to say”?


It just puzzles me. Sometimes I am just amazed at all the things they see in my play, things that might make sense even though it was not intention to put them there. Sometimes I am just disapointed; the New York Times review, for instance, insisting that my character was based on Andy Kauffman and that the cockroach was based on Tony Clifton—and that was not true at all; that was the kind of review you are referring to in this question.


Has a critic ever gotten it correct and made you go, “AHA, that was my intention”? Or gotten it wrong, and made you chuckle about how serious and wrong they were? Or, has anyone suggested a fresh observation that expanded your viewpoint and made you say, “I never thought about that, but it makes total sense!”


Yeah, different critics have different sensibilities, and when I find one whose sensibility is similar to mine, I am always pleased… But when a critic gets it totally wrong I just roll my eyes and sigh. There is not much you can do. That was the case with the New York Times review, and, since we are talking about a really important newspaper, it is also a little tragic since it could have helped us to sell tickets.


When we mention the word “critical review” in the art scene, I often think about big words and esoteric interpretations and value judgements and hoity-toity opinions. I wonder what would happen if someone wrote a theatre review in a utilitarian, kind of way: “The seats were not very comfortable, but the lighting was okay. I sat at the back row and was worried that I wouldn’t be able to see anything on stage. Fortunately, Antonio Vega is quite tall and had a loud, booming voice, so I could see and hear him clearly. Unfortunately, five minutes later he started telling the story through miniature puppets. The cockroach was kind of rude and I disagree with his use of language, but I laughed at his jokes anyway. Sometimes the black shadow’s movements didn’t mirror Juan’s movements exactly; but I get what they were trying to do. My favourite part was when Vega gave us the option of choosing between two different endings—they really thought about audience participation, and I left the play feeling happy! My only complaint was that ten seconds of the show was only in Spanish, with no translation. I think they could have improved on that since they should have known that not all audience members are bilingual.”


I’m fascinated by how a piece of work can mutate and grow into a new animal (or not) when it is translated. Did you experience any revelations when you translated the play from Spanish to English? Was anything lost or gained in the writing, as well as the performance?


I guess there is always something lost in translation. There are some jokes in spanish that just can't be translated so I just came up with different jokes in English. An example of this is the joke about the words with the “k” sound being funnier. In the original Spanish, I said that the words with the “ch” sound were funnier…since there is no letter “ch” in English, I just had to look for an equivalent example.


You’ve performed twice in Singapore! How would you describe and compare the audiences of Singapore, New York, and Mexico City?


In Singapore, the kind of audience members we got were mostly young students who laughed a lot, way more than in Mexico and New York. They were extremely involved in what was going on on stage. In Mexico they laughed more than in New York, but less than in Singapore.


Would you rather be a small fish in a big pond (the “shrinking epidemic” in New York City), or a big fish in a small pond?


I’d rather be a happy fish in a medium-sized pond.


The Duchamp Syndrome’s run in New York City is coming to a close. As a thought experiment, step outside of it and into the shoes of a reviewer who is attending the play on closing night. If you were to write a review, give us a quote or a sentence or two from it.


“Both actors have an amazing connection between themselves and they certainly look as if they were enjoying their last performance.”


What’s with the mouse?


The play is constructed of very simple, straightforward metaphors, one of which is the rat, the ugly, disgusting rat with the worst reputation ever. She wishes to be a squirrel, which is also a rodent but is considered a cute animal. And at the end of the play, I encourage her to dare to be a squirrel—that is the “message”. You can be whatever you want to be…