José Rodriguez Brings Tears of Laughter and Anguish to the Stage with ‘Metanoia’

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Published November 17, 2021
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The Montclarion
Left to Right: Luiza Mircovich, Tristan Benitez, Brandon Cortes, José Rodriguez and Aly Michelle worked together on "A Writer's Mind." Photo courtesy of José Rodriguez

“Metanoia” means “change in one’s way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion,” according to the Oxford Dictionary. To José Rodriguez, a senior theatre studies major at Montclair State University, who wrote and directed a show titled “Metanoia,” it means a whole lot more.

A collection of four shorter plays: “Friend,” “Skeletons,” “A Bag of Chips” and “Writer’s Mind,” “Metanoia” was shown at the White Eagle Hall in Jersey City, New Jersey, owned by the nonprofit Jersey City Theater Center. Rodriguez got the opportunity through the organization’s Producers’ Lab Program, which is made to support young artists as they transition into the professional field.

"Skeletons" is about a group of siblings who find their children infected by an illness while trapped inside during a hurricane. Photo courtesy of José Rodriguez

“Skeletons” is about a group of siblings who find their children infected by an illness while trapped inside during a hurricane. From Left to Right: Manny Marquez, Aly Michelle and Gabe Michelson.
Photo courtesy of José Rodriguez

Rodriguez feels grateful to have worked with the center to bring his work to life.

“Working with Jersey City Theater Center was an amazing opportunity,” Rodriguez said. “Olga Levina, the co-owner, and I really hit it off after our first phone call together. I explained what I wanted to do with my work and she really enjoyed what I was going for. From there, we started working together on how we can make ‘Metanoia’ become reality.”

Rodriguez revealed how he felt sharing “Metanoia” with others.

“I had so many mixed emotions putting ‘Metanoia’ up,” Rodriguez said. “I think mostly because I was afraid to feel vulnerable and show people this side of me. The plays all came to me at various emotional points in my life. It felt like I was putting a piece of me on display for anyone to see.”

From Left to Right: Aly Michelle, Tristan Benitez, Brandon Cortes and Luiza Mircovich make up the cast of "A Writer&squot;s Mind." Photo courtesy of José Rodriguez

From Left to Right: Aly Michelle, Tristan Benitez, Brandon Cortes and Luiza Mircovich make up the cast of “A Writer’s Mind.”
Photo courtesy of José Rodriguez

Each of the plays bordered on both drama and comedy. Throughout the show, the audience was stuck between bursting into laughter and devolving into tears.

Notably, the opening play, “Friend,” set the tone quite well. It was about a man having a sit down with his guardian angel, who was trying to get his life back on track. Though it had various comedic moments throughout, the story was heavy and dealt with topics such as depression and feelings of inadequacy from our protagonist.

Photo courtesy of José Rodriguez

“Friend” is about a man having a sit down with his guardian angel. Front to Back: Brandon Cortes and Dakota Librescu.
Photo courtesy of José Rodriguez

Sofia Pastena, a sophomore acting major, enjoyed the combination of the genres.

“It was really cool to see a show mix both drama and comedy,” Pastena said. “It created a real-life feel to the whole thing.”

That was a common theme in the show: a blend of comedy and drama in an almost Shakespearean sense that kept spectators on their toes.

“A Bag of Chips,” my personal favorite of the four, did this quite well. The story begins with an older man ready to take his own life in a park before a young child, played by Rodriguez, approaches and refuses to leave, asking to share a bag of chips. There are plenty of jokes and lighthearted playfulness throughout the scene, though we never stray too far from the original premise.

“A Bag of Chips” begins with an older man ready to take his own life. Photo courtesy of José Rodriguez

“A Bag of Chips” begins with an older man ready to take his own life, played by Dakota Librescu.
Photo courtesy of José Rodriguez

Rodriguez believes there’s humor happening everywhere around us, which impacted his work.

“There isn’t a single day on earth that goes by where at least one human doesn’t laugh,” Rodriguez said. “That’s why I think it’s good to sprinkle some jokes here and there because it’s honest. Plus, laughing with each other while we experience something serious or scary helps remind us that we aren’t really alone.”

For actor Gabe Michelson, a sophomore theatre studies major at Montclair State, the opportunity to participate in “Metanoia” came at the perfect time.

“At first I didn’t know [Rodriguez] or anyone part of this process acting-wise or behind the scenes,” Michelson said. “However, after it, I never want to be apart from them. [Rodriguez] wrote four incredibly deep shows with rich characters. It was the first time I acted on a stage since the start of the pandemic; [Rodriguez’s] show reignited my dream of being on stage again. For that I am grateful.”

José Rodriguez directs a rehearsal. Photo courtesy of José Rodriguez

José Rodriguez directs a rehearsal.
Photo courtesy of José Rodriguez

Though this showing of “Metanoia” has come and gone, Rodriguez insists he is not quite done with the material yet.

“Currently, I’m going through that post-show sadness,” Rodriguez said. “I’m very pleased with how the show came out, but I’m already thinking of rewrites, as well as what my next step is in my career. Currently, I am in conversations with two theaters in New York. I hope all turns well with them, and we can work together.”

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