The rough poetry of José Rivera’s “Adoration of the Old Woman” leaps off the page. Combining the lyricism of Frederico García Lorca, the magical realism of Gabriel García Marquez, and the profanity of David Mamet, the play, set in Puerto Rico in the near future, is ostensibly about the conflict between independence and statehood, the loss of identity and heritage versus a new identity and larger opportunity. It is also a metaphor for finding one’s individual sense of self in the context of a community and a culture.
The play is getting a major production by Intar, the New York company that for the past 40 years has championed Latino artists and voices and diversity and become a home and launching point for many Latino artists.
Actor Raúl Castillo got his first acting job at Intar, and he returns in this production as Ismael, the rakish statehood advocate. Castillo, who shot to fame this year playing Richie on HBO’s “Looking,” is thrilled to be back where he started his career.
“We were really lucky as Latino actors to have Intar,” he said. “They cultivated a lot of young actors and gave me something that I needed. I had a home here.”
Ismael is a very different character from Richie, and Castillo is happily embracing the role and the play. He noted that the language is very poetic but that one can’t really play the poetry or the magical realism of the plot. Under the direction of Patricia McGregor, Castillo explained, he has been challenged to play the “realness” of the character and “to come to the table with my own specific emotions and humor.”
Castillo has been thrilled with the response to “Looking” and what it has meant to him both as an actor and as a man. As a straight actor playing a gay man, Castillo said, he has learned a lot during the process of “Looking.”
“The greatest tool we have as actors is our capacity for empathy,” he said.
In shooting the show, “I learned a lot about male-to-male intimacy,” he continued. “I don’t have the kind of conversations with my straight male friends that these gay characters had. I don’t know why. But I learned so much about gay male sexuality from someone else’s perspective.”
Castillo also explained, “What excited me most about playing Richie was that his cultural background wasn’t the most important part of the character. He was so much more. We see moments of it, but that’s not really what it’s all about. It’s really just about day-to-day stuff involving this group of gay men.”
He acknowledged that there aren’t that many romantic leads for Latino actors, but “we live in a multicultural world now, and I feel like the conversations we see on ‘Looking’ are something we haven’t seen on TV.”
He noted that in one of the last episodes of the season he was wearing a beautiful Tommy Hilfiger suit.
“I don’t think I’d worn a suit as a character since I played a defendant on ‘Law and Order,’ he said.
The sometimes graphic conversations between the characters on “Looking” were certainly not ones Castillo had growing up. He comes from Texas and a very traditional Mexican-American family in a border town. And while he was concerned about how they might respond to his playing a gay character, he probably shouldn’t have been.
“My family is great and so loving,” he said. “My dad even got a subscription to HBO now.”
After the brief run at Intar, Castillo will stay busy before returning to shoot the second season of “Looking.” He’s planning to do independent film work as well as theater and is in the initial stages of a project with San Diego’s Museum of Man, which is focused on anthropology, and the La Jolla Playhouse to create an interactive museum theater experience.
The joy Castillo takes in his work is inspiring.
This moment in his career, he said, is “an amazing time.”
ADORATION OF THE OLD WOMAN | Intar Theatre, 500 W. 52nd St., fourth fl. | Through Apr. 6: Wed. at 6 p.m.; Thu.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sun. at 5 p.m. | $28 at intartheatre.org | two hrs., with intermission