Summit Spotlight: Rogelio Martinez on when world leaders collide

Video above by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk and Senior Arts Journalist John Moore.

In this daily, five-part series for the DCPA NewsCenter, we will introduce you to the plays and playwrights featured at the Denver Center’s 2017 Colorado New Play Summit. Over the past 12 years, 27 plays introduced to the Summit have gone to be premiered on the DCPA Theatre Company mainstage season. Next up: Rogelio Martinez, author of the political thriller Blind Date.

Playwright Rogelio Martinez on watching
Ronald Reagan transform on a global stage

Blind Date centers on Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev‘s first meeting at the  Geneva Summit in 1985 to try to open up channels between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. And while the odd couple chip away at the mistrust between their countries, Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev play out a passive-aggressive tango that mirrors their husbands’ negotiations.

John Moore: You have been to the Colorado New Play Summit many times as a commissioned playwright, mainstage playwright and audience member. What has the Denver Center come to mean to you?

Rogelio Martinez: It’s one of the few theatres I can call home. It’s a special place for me, and I am always happy to be here. Great energy. Great writers.

John Moore: How did your history with the Colorado New Play Summit begin?

Rogelio Martinez: It started in 2008 when they asked me to bring in 10 pages of something I was working on, and I brought in the first 10 pages of When Tang Met Laika. There was a very positive response. We then workshopped it at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp in Steamboat Springs. That is a beautiful place to get away from the world, and get inside the world of your play. It was then read at the 2009 Colorado New Play Summit, and then it had its world premiere on the DCPA Theatre Company’s mainstage season in 2010. It was an amazing production.   

Rogelio Martinez. Photo by John Moore.

John Moore: Tell people who weren’t here in 2010 about When Tang Met Laika.

Rogelio Martinez: It is a play set on the International Space Station during the Cold War. It’s about former adversaries working together. The Russians got to space first, and they created the first space station, Zarya. So we had a lot to learn from them. I was just fascinated by the idea of people who were enemies on this planet suddenly being friends up there in the universe.

Rogelio Martinez. Blind DateJohn Moore: That’s perfect segue into the play you are writing now as a commission for the DCPA Theatre Company, Blind Date. Tell us about it.  

Rogelio Martinez: Blind Date is about the Geneva in 1985 where Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev first met. Reagan was 74 at the time and Gorbachev was much younger, 54. But at that Summit, they both did a pivot. They changed. Yes, you can still change at (that age). Up to that point, Reagan was anti-Communist. He did terrible damage as president of the Screen Actors Guild. He was not a great governor of California. But suddenly he had this naiveté. He said, “You know what? Let’s abolish nuclear weapons. Let’s just get rid of them.” And he saw across the room from him this man he thought could do this with him. It’s fascinating to see somebody change before your very eyes.  

(Photo above: Victor Slezak as Ronald Reagan and Triney Sandavol as Mikhail Gorbachev in ‘Blind Date.’)

John Moore: So what did you learn about Reagan in your research?

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Rogelio Martinez: One thing is that Reagan worked in narratives. You couldn’t talk statistics to Reagan. You had to tell him a story. He saw the ending of the Cold War as a story, and he was one of the main actors in it.

John Moore: Blind Date is the conclusion to your Cold War Trilogy. And when you look at it alongside some of your other works, such as Ping Pong, about Nixon and Mao, it’s clear you have a continuing fascination with opposites attracting on a global scale.

Rogelio Martinez: I love the idea of worlds colliding. I was born in Cuba and I came here when I was 9.

John Moore: You didn’t just come here when you were 9. You came here during the Mariel boatlift in 1980.

Rogelio Martinez. Photo by Adams VisCom Rogelio Martinez: Yes. And until then, I had been taught one way of life, because there was no expectation that I was ever going to leave the country. And then suddenly, here I am. I remember going to Sears for the first time. My aunt said, “vamos a cia,” or, “Let’s go.” But she dropped the r and the s so it literally sounded like she was saying, “Let’s go to the C.I.A.” There was this sudden culture shock. But I am able to see the world from two points of view, because I have lived from two points of view. So I love it when leaders crash into one another. But it’s not so much personalities colliding that excites me as it is people behaving unlike how we know them to be. Take Nixon: Warmonger. Nasty man. But he is able to reach out and start this friendship with China. I love contradiction. That is the most exciting thing to me: People who contradict themselves.

John Moore: You obviously wrote this before the recent presidential election, but you are here now at the Colorado New Play Summit doing major rewrites. Does your play in any way acknowledge the new Reagan?

Rogelio Martinez. Blind Date
The cast of Rogelio Martinez’s’ ‘Blind Date.” Photo by Adams VisCom.

Rogelio Martinez: Absolutely. As I was writing the play, I was aware of the coming election. And as I was rewriting it, the election was happening. So I was aware that the play would have to somehow echo what is going on in the world right now. We’re Tweeting now. Things get lost in the translation. In the time I am writing about, people were extremely articulate. Gorbachev is an extremely articulate man, so there was a chance for a conversation then that is not happening today. But I hope it does at some point.

John Moore: This might seem like an obvious question when we are talking about leaders from Russia and the United States meeting for the first time at a tense time in history, as they do in your play. But your story is set in 1985. So why is this the right play at the right time?

Spotlight: Donnetta Lavinia Grays the aftermath of trauma

Rogelio Martinez: The world was a scary place in the 1980s, and you never thought it was going to get scarier. But then there were about 20 years there where the younger generation never lived under the fear of nuclear annihilation. They don’t understand it. So when they watch this play, they will begin to understand that there is this longer narrative that has been going on for a long while now. But it can be solved. It just needs the kind of leadership where people go beyond the character they have shown so far. So Blind Date is actually a hopeful piece. And hope is not a bad thing to have.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Blind Date

Written by Rogelio Martinez
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli
Dramaturgy by Douglas Langworthy
George Shultz: Liam Craig
Eduard Shevardnadze: Steve Brady
Mikhail Gorbachev: Triney Sandavol
Ronald Reagan: Victor Slezak
Edmund Morris: Kurt Rhoads
Raisa Gorbachev: Kathleen McCall
Nancy Reagan: Nance Williamson
Peter, Politburo Member, Dimitri Zarechnak: Rodney Lizcano
Stage Directions: Mehry Eslaminia

Blind Date. Adams VisCom

Liam Craig, left, as George Shultz, and Steve Brady as Eduard Shevardnadze in Rogelio Martinez’s ‘Blind Date.’ Photo by Adams VisCom.

Selected previous coverage of the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit:
2017 Summit welcomes dozens for opening rehearsal
Summit Spotlight: Robert Schenkkan on the dangers of denial
Summit Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line
Summit Spotlight: Rogelio Martinez on when world leaders collide
Summit Spotlight: Donnetta Lavinia Grays on the aftermath of trauma
Summit Spotlight: Eric Pfeffinger on the fertile comedy of a divided America
Record four student writers to have plays read at Summit
DCPA completes field of five 2017 Summit playwrights

The 12th Annual Colorado New Play Summit
Launch Weekend: Feb. 18-19
Festival Weekend: Feb. 24-26
More details:

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