Visionary J. Hernandez brings the brooding “The Best Of Me” to Philadelphia

265
"The Best of Me" comes to the stage
The Best Of Me comes to the Simpatico Theatre

Theatre creative visionary J. Hernandez has an eye for one of a kind material, and out of the box creations. So much so, he has managed to, along with Amanda Schooner, bring The Best Of Me to the Philadelphia stage. The show begins on September 19, 2018 at Simpatico Theatre.

Blood is seeping through the ceilings of an apartment complex in Hollywood, Florida back on September 16, 1996. Police enter the apartment above to find the body of a man covered in grease paint, along with 18 hours of video footage. There is a note on the wall reading “The Best of Me.” The show is the details of videotapes, love, revenge, art, loneliness, and even an assassination attempt on pop icon Bjork! The story ended up on YouTube (where you can do a deep dive, to this day). Ricardo Lopez has a complex and powerful story, and J. Hernandez is the perfect theatre dynamo to tell it.

I caught up with Hernandez to talk about this uber dark story. What is it like to tell such a complex story and bring it to the stage? And how it truly will be a reflection of so many of us today.

Michael Cook: The Best Of Me is so gorgeously dark and beautifully moody. Where does such an interesting idea begin to come from? 

"The Best of Me"
“The Best of Me”

J. Hernandez: It began with me hearing about Ricardo Lopez back in 2009. I was on Wikipedia and ended up in a “Wiki-hole” like so many of us do, and I ended up finding him under the topic ”Finding Assassins.” You don’t really see a Latin ex-assassin that often. So I started reading and found that there was so much more about it. That led me to the eighteen hours of footage that he recorded that mysteriously ended up popping up on YouTube. From there, I went ahead and took time out and watched an hour or two a day of it. The footage actually leads to him ultimately shooting himself in front of a rolling camera. This is also over the span of nine months. That is the real origin of me writing this piece.

What is it about this material that really helps the audience connect to it? 

JH: I think the thing that will make it connect is that we are all living in the time of social media right now. This is the precursor to that. Ricardo Lopez was a video blogger before “vlogging” was even a thing. And he has actually ended up doing it in absentia. Basically, what we have now is people that are talking to their cameras, looking at their cameras, taking pictures, and we are not talking to each other anymore. It is a problem. When you see something like this, and you see that this gentleman can only talk to his camera and no one else. It may hit a tone with some people.

Do you feel that we are in a time where seeing pieces like this are letting people see themselves in the material? Are we too far self absorbed and “gone” as a society? 

JH: I think with people of many ages, they can see that there definitely is a disconnect. Social media, the internet, and the state of modern politics has done this to us. There is not a whole lot that really affects us anymore. It may affect us for a minute. But a great deal of us have an attention span that will be recorded in nanoseconds right now. All of a sudden, we are taking up arms on any sort of issue and then five minutes later we are rolling our eyes about it! That is a fear right there. I would hope that a story like this will affect and shape somebody in terms of the ill behavior that they may be participating in right now.

Do you find yourself, the writer of the material, being guilty of it as well? 

JH: I absolutely find myself of guilty of it. I try to be cognizant of it, like spending too much time in front of my phone, or talking to people that don’t exist in real life….  and only virtually. While they may exist in some way, these are people who are not in my immediate life. The people that matter are around you day in and day out. Your friends, family, people in the community who offer services are there for you. That is something I am trying to tackle in this show. The state of masculinity and the state of the Latin x community has gotten so out of hand that if someone even thinks about wanting to see a therapist, they are deemed as “crazy.” It’s not crazy! It’s just having a problem and wanting to talk it out with someone.

When you look at all of our various platforms for entertainment like Netflix and Hulu, documentaries are so prevalent right now. And are being done so well. Are you surprised that this story did not become some sort of a documentary or something like that? 

JH: Yes, I actually am. I have only come into contact with one other person in Australia, who was making an opera of this story. I could see Bjork as a modern trip hop opera, why not! (laughs)

You have been working with the Philadelphia theatre community for about five years now. What do you think about this community helps make it so vibrant and diverse? 

JH: I really think it’s the community and the people that really help each other out. That is why I really decided to stay in Philadelphia. I was a transient actor before that — originally from Texas — minutes from the border actually. I had been working up and down the East Coast for about five years. I decided to stay in Philadelphia permanently. It is the community that gives the opportunity to do pieces like this. I met Allison Heishman three years ago, and now she is heading up Simpatico Theatre and extended the opportunity to me to bring The Best Of Me to Simpatico. And I thought it was great. Even before that, I had a stint work shopping it over at Jersey Fringe and then before that, a little workshop for solo productions here in Philly. There is a lot of opportunity and venues for you to help your work grow for people to see it. From there, people’s work gets legs. Artists around here don’t forget about it, which is one of the best things.

You clearly have a distinct eye and a vision. Where would you want to be five yeas from now? 

JH: You know, just to have work in our community and  in this profession, that is the biggest challenge. We are having a slew of opportunity for people of color on stage. We are playing servants, cooks, bar-backs etc. We are diving the narrative, for many other folks playing living, breathing props. I think that comes off as incentive to what people are writing. Because we could be written out all together. The thing is, I would love to play a part, someone with a Latin X last name and not have their citizenship be questioned or something like that. That would be a real dream!

The Best Of Me written by J. Hernandez and Amanda Schoonover and performed by J. Hernandez kicks off September 19, 2018 at 9:30 pm at The Proscenium Theatre at The Drake. Tickets are available at fringearts.com and all performances are pay what you decide!

simpaticotheatre.org