Actor-playwright Ricardo Meléndez, a native of Puerto Rico, considers Indianapolis his stateside hometown, so the former Dance Kaleidoscope company member is excited to share his latest work at this year’s IndyFringe Theatre Festival with old friends and potentially many new ones this weekend.
Meléndez’s play, directed by Steve J. Earle, is presented by Actors’ Workshop of Virginia and is titled “Angel on Eros.” Awarded “Outstanding Play” at New York City’s Fresh Fruit Festival 2023, and Bursary-Award winner from the Irish Department of Culture at the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival in 2023 in Ireland, the drama will have its midwestern premiere as part of the IndyFringe Festival at Venue 1, IndyFringe Basile Theater, August 18-20.
According to the press release, “‘Angel on Eros’ take a look at a friendship between two men of differing sexual orientations and offers a view into the transactional nature of human interactions. Filled with laughter and framed inside the business of the arts, the play journeys into a world of human disillusion, self-discovery, and acceptance.”
In the role of Angel, a Hispanic painter who is gay, is Meléndez, who was last seen on stage in Indy as Nijinsky in Norman Allen’s award-winning play “Nijinsky’s Last Dance” — a role for which Meléndez won the best male actor award at the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. Meléndez, not only a former principal dancer at DK from 1992 to 1999, but also a longtime performer at the Phoenix Theater, is presently the Producing Director at the Actors’ Workshop of Virginia and Associate Artistic Director for Todd Rosenlieb Dance.
Playing opposite Meléndez is actor-dancer Brexdyn Ladieu as Matt, a young, straight, married restauranteur. Ladieu grew up in Suffolk, Virginia, and is a graduate of the Governor’s School for the Arts. He is currently dancing with TRDance Company in his second season. Brexdyn returns to his love for theater with this Actors’ Workshop production.
My own relationship with Meléndez began when we appeared together as son and grandfather in José Rivera’s magical realism-infused drama “The Promise,” directed by Bryan Fonseca at the Phoenix Theatre in 1993. It was groundbreaking for a play by a Puerto Rican-born playwright to be produced in Indy, much less featuring a cast of primarily Latino actors. From that time on, we have remained friends and stayed in touch. So, of course, when he reached out to me to publicize “Angel on Eros,” I was happy to oblige.
Recently, during a Zoom call, Meléndez told me how pleased he was to return to his old stomping grounds with “Angel on Eros” and present his newest work at Fringe about which he said, “I have always wanted to attend Fringe but never found the opportunity. I thought of Fringe while looking at other markets to share this play, and knowing that Indianapolis has a solid theatre audience, it was a solid no brainer.”
As far as the play itself, Meléndez stated, “Many think the play is a romantic comedy, but there is very little romance in it. It is about the transactions that takes place in human attraction. As far as what inspired me to write it, I was trying to redefine myself as an artist and as an individual, so it starts there and to that extent some it is biographical. I asked the question: ‘How much do we give up in order to fit a mold or brand that circumstances have created for us?’ There are autobiographical ideas in it, but the story is not.”
Considering that some of his fondest memories took place in Indy during his years dancing with DK under recently retired artistic director David Hochoy, Meléndez said, “I was in that first group when David moved to Indiana. When I landed with David, I was a professional dancer from Puerto Rico. Prior to that I was a young actor who stumbled into dance and seemed to be good at it. I think I took the artistry for granted and the idea of dance and especially modern dance as a very important component of the dance world, but David opened my eyes to that, and the love of the story you are communicating with your body, the idea of dance as a language, not just a physicality or positions on stage. All of that I learned from him. After I left DK, I directed a national company in Puerto Rico, and then I came to Norfolk, where I am producing director at the Actors’ Workshop of Virginia and associate artistic director for Todd Rosenlieb Dance, founded by my husband.” Regarding Hochoy’s influence on him Meléndez proclaims, “There is not one day that goes by that I don’t refer to David, and I am grateful for the aesthetic that he imparted on me. There is no doubt about that.”
When I asked him about Fonseca, he said, “When it came to theatre, not only did Bryan open doors for me, but he was also a mentor. He sometimes got burned but just kept pushing forward. He had a perfect forward motion that I always admired. There will never be another Bryan Fonseca.”
And what does the playwright hope his audience takes away from his work? “First and foremost, I hope the audience members enjoy themselves. I hope they see themselves in the story and laugh with these characters as they listen to the character. I hope they go home and have an honest talk with their friends and loved ones and perhaps share their views on thoughts or ideas that the play might have sparked. Finally, my wish for the audience is to continue their support for artists who are LGBTQIA2S+ because representation is imperative to the wellbeing of our entire community.” said Meléndez.
“Angel on Eros” will be performed Friday, August 18 at 7:15 p.m.; Saturday, August 19 at 8:45 p.m.; and Sunday, August 20 at 5:15 p.m. at the IndyFringe Basile Theater, at 719 St. Clair Street, Indianapolis 46202. The production contains nudity and adult language and is recommended for adult audiences. For tickets and information visit https://indyfringe.org/performance/2023-fringe-angel