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Gregg Barrios's play 'I-DJ' queers the Bard, the barrio, and beyond

Photo: Photos by Steven Gilmore, License: N/A

Photos by Steven Gilmore

I-DJ author Gregg Barrios.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photos by Steven Gilmore

Rick Sanchez as Warren Peace.

The first time I encountered Gregg Barrios's writing was in 1992, in Pullman, Washington, of all places, as I flipped through the personal papers of the late Chicano convict poet Ricardo Sánchez before sending them for permanent archiving at Stanford University. Next to two loaded revolvers Sánchez had stored with his poetry was a flyer announcing Barrios's biography about the notorious mafioso Fred Gómez Carrasco. Infamous for shooting his way to the top of the 1970s San Antonio heroin market, Carrasco was killed in a hail of bullets at the end of an 11-day prison takeover and escape attempt from the Walls Unit in Huntsville.

Sánchez, a former prisoner at the Walls Unit and subsequent proprietor of the San Antonio bookstore Paperbacks y Más, had lionized Carrasco as a Chicano social bandit and even compared him to Jesus Christ and Socrates. Barrios followed suit by translating the autobiography obtained from Carrasco's wife while she was on the lam. (He subsequently wrote a one-act play, You Only Live Once, that premiered at the San Pedro Playhouse playwright's festival PlayFest 2012, which is currently being expanded into a larger production, ¡Carrasco!—A Narcocorrido, to feature a live conjunto group.)

When I later met Barrios in 1999 as part of an educational initiative at UTSA, I fought the urge to ask how the hell he had gotten in touch with Rosa Carrasco. From my work with Sánchez and other outlaw artists, I knew better than to ask certain questions. When it comes to their extra-literary, uh, influences, some things are best left unsaid, unwritten, and even hidden. After all, for these crazy vatos, art is always much more than just art.

But the information that is out in the open, is really out, and Barrios's new version of his play, I-DJ, premiering at the Overtime Theater on July 13*, offers enough unexpurgated recollections about holdups, hang-ups, and hook ups that someone's sure to get arrested before the night's over.

I-DJ features a queer Chicano DJ, christened Amado Guerrero Paz, who takes the strategically anglicized stage name Warren Peace (as in War and Peace), which fits the turbulence of his life. He is a composite of foundational club DJs in the 1980s such as Jellybean Benítez (who wooed and produced Madonna) and Junior Vásquez (co-founder of NYC's famous Sound Factory and producer of everyone from Janet Jackson to Prince to the Pet Shop Boys).

A runaway gay teen, street hustler, and later straight-to-video B-actor, Warren ultimately finds his true calling as a dance club DJ ("I'm into theme nights, retro, and disco balls," he quips), migrating back and forth between the L.A. and NYC club scenes. The action takes place at the end of one era — the 1970s Chicano Movement — and the beginning of even more tumultuous epochs — 1980s disco, and the second coming of Satan, aka Ronald Reagan, union buster, Cold War fanatic, and homophobe extraordinaire whose delayed acknowledgement of AIDS led to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

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