Theatre Rhino's 'Bad Hombres' - charging forward, building communities

  • Tuesday October 4, 2022
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Rudy Guerrero as multiple characters in Guillermo Reyes' 'Bad Hombres'
Rudy Guerrero as multiple characters in Guillermo Reyes' 'Bad Hombres'

"I want to do queer theater and I want to do weird theater," says River Bermudez Sanders, 24, who makes their San Francisco directorial debut with "Bad Hombres," the first show in Theatre Rhinoceros' 46th season, which opens this Friday.

In a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Sanders, who grew up in Fremont, said that while "the typical trajectory for someone like me who gets a degree in theater at an east coast school is to move to New York," the Bay Area felt like a better fit, with a scrappier, more like-minded theater community.

"When I started school, I was more focused on performance," Sanders explained. "But through that period, I was changing the way I presented. I've changed my name, I've changed my appearance. And now I'm pursuing behind the scenes work more; directing, stage managing and writing."

Asked whether they felt pushed away from performing on account of a non-binary presentation, Sanders —who uses they, he and she pronouns — replied pointedly, "I definitely felt a bit pushed by the industry's standards. But I really wanted to put myself in a position where I can help push things in the other direction."

Sanders' opportunity to direct at the Rhino demonstrates that the supportive queer theater network he hoped to find in the Bay Area indeed exists.

When John Fisher, Theatre Rhinoceros' artistic director, was looking for someone to helm "Bad Hombres" —a new collection of comic monologues by Guillermo Reyes, whose "Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown" was an earlier hit for the company— he reached out to another past Rhino collaborator, Justin Lopez.

As it turned out, Lopez' own play "The Re-Education of Fernando Morales" had recently been presented in a staged reading at Lafayette's Town Hall Theater, with Sanders directing.

Impressed with Sanders after meeting him, Fisher decided to give the newcomer a shot.

Director River Bermudez Sanders and Theatre Rhino's John Fisher  

Older audiences, open minds
"I love our aging audience," said Fisher of the Rhino's historic subscriber base, many of whom are in their 50s and older. "I adore them. They're the generation that fought for queer rights. And they still have the theater bug."

And like Sanders and other emerging queer theater artists, says Fisher, "Our loyal audience is open to work that explores intersectionality and the stories of other minorities."

"The American college system is still producing good theater people," Fisher told the Bay Area Reporter, "We don't always have to wait until someone's a so-called 'seasoned director.' River has the chops and he understands the material. The Rhino isn't just about putting on plays. It's about cultivating a local queer community of artists."

Growing up in the East Bay, River Sanders was unfamiliar Theatre Rhinoceros, only learning about the company and its nearly five-decade history after returning home after college. Now, thanks to Fisher's openness, he's lending his youthful perspective to the venerable institution.

"Bad Hombres" undermines Donald Trump's broad-brush take on Latino men by showcasing an eccentric crew of characters, including a closeted luchador wrestler, all played by Rudy Guerrero, whose star turn in Rhino's "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" won a Best Actor award from the Bay Area Theater Critics Circle award in 2017.

Slipping a bit of 21st-century theater kid perspective into the show, Sanders has worked in a bit of physical comedy involving literal Books of Mormon. He's also staged one of the monologues as a TED talk.

"I hope I'm bringing a bit of Gen Z humor to the production, a bit of our sense of absurdity,'" said Sanders.

Subscriptions to the Rhino's new season, including "Bad Hombres," four additional productions, a reading series and several special events are $150.

'Bad Hombres,' through October 30. Theatre Rhinoceros, 4229 18th St. $15-$25. (415) 552-4100.

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