A Theater Lover’s Love Letter to ‘The Leopard Play’
Photo Credit: Andrea Klohn
When I saw this play a week ago I was not prepared for it. When it was over, and my dear friend Kelsey and I sat in the audience until the theater was nearly empty, I was not prepared to walk away from it. Suffice it to say, even a few days later, I wasn’t remotely prepared to pen a 500 word or less review of it.
This love letter is to Isaac Gomez. The cast of his The Leopard Play or songs for lost boys. The creative team of that show. Whoever at Steep Theatre ultimately chose the play. This love letter is to every person who touched this work before it made its world premiere last week. And still, even a week later, I’m drowning in inadequacy.
I sat behind Gomez when I saw this work debut. I found my eyes gliding in his direction when the play finds its darkest moments. Leopard Play is the penultimate personal essay. There are too many layers of vulnerability to count. This play about heartache, generational trauma, homophobia, toxic masculinity and family absolutely ripped my heart out. And then, almost as quickly, reminded me that we all have our burdens to bear—they just take different shapes.
Not being behind the scenes, I can’t begin to fathom the emotional labor the folks behind this play took on. The dissection of power structures, white supremacy, cultural loss and what makes machismo so poisonous to the human spirit must have been one hell of a journey. In a matter of just under two hours, Gomez takes some of his own life and puts it center stage along so many enormous societal issues. It’s his own personal August: Osage County, with fewer characters, a more palatable runtime and significantly more strip tease fantasies.
Then again, it’s unfair to compare Leopard Play to August. The former is endowed with all of Gomez’s charisma and personal vulnerability while the latter is an excellent character play. Gomez’s work has a lot more of his person at stake. It’s clear that his spirit is woven through the play which makes it all the more powerful.
Just as his play last year, La Ruta, gave us an up-close and personal look into the lives of women in Juárez, Mexico, Leopard Play gives us a magnified look into his own experiences as a human being. It’s a gift we couldn’t have asked for.
A gift we so desperately needed.
Thank you. To every person who has touched this heartwrenching work. It stopped me utterly in my tracks. It spurred hard conversations with some people I hold very dear. It made me tense for the whole runtime and forced me to take a minute before leaving the space once it was over. This is one of those plays that will change you.
If you’re ready to take on this emotional journey, it is well worth every twist and sudden turn.