Dallas — “What happens when a Dominican boy in Queens—with an imagination far beyond his shell, who won't go anywhere without his nerf gun and is obsessed with James Bond—finds out the real James Bond was Dominican?” So goes the tagline for The Real James Bond Was Dominican, a solo play written and performed by Christopher Rivas. After touring the play for the past few years, The Real James Bond Was Dominican will receive its North Texas premiere at Bishop Arts Theatre Center from May 17 to 19.
Under the direction of Daniel Banks, The Real James Bond Was Dominican is a 65-minute interdisciplinary solo piece that integrates text, music, projections, and audience participation. A writer-performer with many television credits, Christopher Rivas is accompanied by a live percussion score performed by Wilson Torres.
The Real James Bond Was Dominican is the true, but little discussed, story of Porfirio Rubirosa, the inspiration that Ian Fleming used for James Bond, and how learning this sent a young, aspiring Dominican actor on a tragi-comic journey. Rubirosa was an aspiring actor and a Dominican diplomat who was rumored to be a politician assassin during the tumultuous regime of Rafael Trujillo. Rubirosa kept company with the likes of Doris Duke, Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra, Prince Aly Khan, and John F. Kennedy. He was an international sportsman and one of the richest men in the world, not to mention he inspired one of film history’s most well-known franchises. In addition to the glitz and glamour he carried through his public life, he was not without a closet of violent secrets.
It’s no surprise that Rubirosa’s story offers rich terrain from which Rivas can unpack his own life story. Rivas intertwines tales of Rubirosa with his own journey of being an “ethnically ambiguous” young man of color in Hollywood and what sort of privileges that entails. Rivas’ play is a coming-of-age story of sorts that grapples with how one young Dominican man negotiates love, sex, race, code-switching, white-washing in Hollywood, success, and fake-it-till-you-make-it culture. By navigating these obstacles, he is able to find himself and come to terms with who he truly is.
TheaterJones chatted with Christopher Rivas a few days before opening night.
TheaterJones: Can you tell us more about The Real James Bond Was Dominican? Where did the idea for the show originate?
Christopher Rivas: It was born the day someone sent me the article in Vanity Fair about Porfirio Rubirosa. While thousands of people read it, I was haunted by it, taken aback by it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I think that was because I’m a fan of James Bond and I was a young actor in Hollywood, studying theatre and here was another lie I believed. So that’s when it was born.
You’ve been working on this show for nearly a decade. Can you tell us more about how the show has developed since 2010?
Oh, God! It was so bad! One version was just me playing him—me being Porfirio Rubirosa—the whole time. Another version had weird scenes of him in a therapist office. Another version was this weird PowerPoint version. Another version was this “suave something something”—I don’t know! I just tried so many different things, so I realized a couple of things about what this particular show is. His story is only as good as the warnings it leaves behind. What ends up happening is that my own personal story is told and that ends up, in my opinion, pretty symbiotic and beautiful in the way it lines up. But I can see warnings and lessons. I often look at his life as a warning as a young man of color and a brown body in the world, and in the business of being seen. You can only sell yourself so many times.
Why did you decide to include yourself in the narrative? Were you reluctant to include yourself in the show?
I wonder if I was reluctant. I wonder if I just didn’t see it yet. I think my director, Daniel Banks, had a lot to do with that. He helped me with the script and I think the more I saw him the more we were able to find those correlations in our stories and those moments of me.
What have audiences taken away from this show? What do you hope they continue to take away?
Hopefully, you asked bigger questions than you haven’t been able to ask before. That’s a big part of my work. I believe in disruption. We talk so much about change, but we don’t realize that disruption is vital for that. That in order to do that we have to ask bigger questions, real “what if” questions that might reveal some not-so-good stuff. And the other thing that they’ll take away is an expanded view of how powerful the images and media we’re plugged into are. And how, as bodies of color, it’s okay to acknowledge that this world wasn’t made for us, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t take it back. We’re really trying to fit ourselves into someone else’s mold. I can’t actually see myself through the eyes of others until I first see myself.
How does this show fit within your body of work?
It’s right in there. All my writing is about identity, the importance of telling one’s own story, and the importance of authenticity. Those are the three things that are in my writing. Identity, authenticity, speak your truth. I don’t think Porfirio Rubirosa did those three things and it ended tragically for him. So, it totally fits into my body of work.
Is there anything else you’d like folks to know before seeing the show?
As deep as all the concepts are, it’s really pretty funny and fun. I believe sugar helps the medicine go down. If they want to dance, they should come down and dance. They should just bring it all!
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a book called Brown Enough where each chapter is like “Brown Enough for Dating,” “Brown Enough for Hollywood,” or “Brown Enough for the Cops.” And I’m working on a couple of things on TV—I’m always acting—so there are some things on TV that will be coming out fairly soon.
» Trevor Boffone is a Houston-based scholar, educator, writer, dramaturg, and producer. He is a member of the National Steering Committee for the Latinx Theatre Commons and the founder of the 50 Playwrights Project. Trevor has a Ph.D. in Latinx theater and literature from the Department of Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston where he holds a Graduate Certificate in Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. He holds an MA in Hispanic Studies from Villanova University and a BA in Spanish from Loyola University New Orleans. He is coeditor with Chantal Rodriguez (Yale) and Teresa Marrero (University of North Texas) of the anthology ENCUENTRO: Latinx Performance for the New American Theater (May 2019, Northwestern University Press).