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Portland Center Stage's online reading of Baruch Porras Hernandez’ 'Love in the Time of Piñatas' hits a cultural and theatrical sweet spot

Wow, did I enjoy this.

In the days leading up to the presidential election, I watched Portland Center Stage’s staged reading of Baruch Porras Hernandez’s Love in the Time of Piñatas online. My assignment: to evaluate how staged readings translate to a virtual format.

But almost as soon as Hernandez appeared on screen, emerging from a red velvet curtain in his bedroom while wearing a black mesh top, jacket festooned with streamers and glitter affixed to his beard, singing a song called “Down with the Trumps,” I forgot all that.

Baruch Porras Hernandez in Epic Party Theatre’s production of “Love in the Time of Piñatas” in December 2019. Photo: Robbie Sweeney/Courtesy Epic Party Theatre

“It’s my party and I’ll shake what I want to,” Hernandez began, go-go dancers accompanying him on either side of the screen, before the lyrics veered into something more somber. “Hello everybody, my name is Baruch,” he sang, “And if you’re like me, you’re terrified. I never thought it could get this bad. I never thought it could get so sad.”

This careening from joy and exuberance to pain and disappointment and back again sets the tone for the show, as Hernandez goes on to discuss the difficulties of being “single, bilingual and ready to mingle” during the pandemic, of growing up gay and as an immigrant and reconciling in his later life with his estranged father.

In between these moving stories are dance numbers and a poem about donuts.

The continual shift in narrative and tone showcases the many talents of Hernandez, who is not only an actor and writer, but also a comedian, poet, and artist. It also reflects how my own brain has functioned over the past few years, ricocheting from fear to sorrow to amusement, often within seconds of each other.

“My tears are your tears,” he reassures us. “Your tears are my tears. May our tears unite and form a river that will flow over all of us and put us out of our misery. Because it sucks!”

Love in the Time of Piñatas offers so much of what I love about theater. Even though I watched it online, the effect of Hernandez speaking directly to the camera gave the show an urgency, intimacy and, in this pandemic world, a much-needed sense of community, gathering us around to listen to a story and allowing us to live out our own feelings of joy and anxiety through it.

Much of the show, which is available now in recorded form on Portland Center Stage’s website, was live, although there were prerecorded sequences in which Hernandez read from a binder. But the piñata-strewn set has so much homemade charm that this seemed less like a prop from a staged reading and more like a way to create a storytime atmosphere, which was fitting as the stories in this setting were about his childhood.

Whether Hernandez is talking about current politics or the Rainbow Brite costume party he threw when he was five, there are themes that run throughout the show. Continually, Hernandez reminds us of the importance of being brave, of being ourselves, of staying hopeful in a despairing world.

“’I didn’t come here so you could be a doctor or an engineer or a lawyer,” Hernandez quotes his mother, who moved the family to the U.S. from Mexico when he was young. “I came here so you could be whatever you want.’”

We’re lucky she did.

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  • Find ticket information and watch Love in the Time of Piñatas here.
  • Next up from Center Stage: Portland band Sávila presents the 45-minute film Earth Without Borders/Tierra sin Fronteras, “a recorded musical journey celebrating the plant and animal life that thrives along the Mexico/U.S. border.” 2 & 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14; ticket information here.

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