Writer: Julie Piñero and Jose Zambrano
Producer: Caitlin Stone
Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell
In the early morning hours of 17 November 2019, 26-year-old video game designer Jose Zambrano was attacked behind a Williamsburg, Brooklyn bar; he suffered severe brain damage and died four days later at Bellevue Hospital. His partner, performer and multimedia producer Julie Piñero, remembers their time together, his death, and the aftermath in Delejos (from afar), a live solo show on Zoom presented as a limited weekly run until May 1.
Delejos (from afar) confronts a multitude of themes in its two-hour running time. Piñero addresses grief, mourning, separation from those we love, and Latinx identity– both her own and Zambrano’s. She uses storytelling, comedy, music, and video to tell the story of Zambrano’s death but also of his life, her life, their life together, and the void that his passing left in the lives of his family and friends. She relates the story non-sequentially, spending the first half of the show interspersing stories from the vigil by Zambrano’s hospital bed in the days following the attack with anecdotes from their early courtship and ruminations from her childhood as the daughter of Puerto-Rican migrants to Maryland. The second part of the show focuses on mourning Zambrano’s death both on her own and with Zambrano’s far-flung Venezuelan family, all of whom she met for the first time at that bedside vigil in Bellevue Hospital.
At the time of his death, Jose Zambrano was at work on a virtual reality game called Delejos; on the show’s website, Piñero tells us that “It’s a game about overcoming physical separation, inspired by his own forced immigration from Venezuela; [b]y his design, players set out to connect to something they love—from afar.” Piñero uses the concept of Zambrano’s final project as an immersive tool in her show, asking the audience to “put on VR goggles” by closing their eyes while she guides them through steps in the game, pulling in her memories of their time together. It is a fun idea, but until she really establishes the visual language of the piece it runs the risk of losing the audience’s attention. Once that language is established, though, Delejos (from afar) pulls us into its story of a life unfairly cut short and those left behind and it doesn’t let go.
While many online performances in the past year rely heavily on our memory of what it was like to see a live show in a real theatre, Delejos (from afar) draws on our more recent memories of struggling to connect, well, from afar—through a screen or a phone call. When Piñero recalls Zambrano’s family and friends’ raucous celebration of his life following his death, we feel her alienation because it is what millions of families around the world feel as they struggle to mourn the deaths of their loved ones without being able to safely gather to celebrate their lives. At one point, Piñero recalls Zambrano’s family pulling her into a dance to the impossibly catchy song “The Ketchup Song (Asereje)” by the Spanish pop group Las Ketchup. Watching her do a goofy novelty dance alone as she remembers the night of her partner’s death, it is hard to decide whether to laugh or cry. That sums up the zeitgeist of 2020 better than anything.
Runs until 1 May 2021 | Photo Credit: Julie Piñero