- Joel Maisonet
Quijada opens by telling the audience he’s going back to the beginning of his life, and he means it. After quickly miming his parents conceiving him, he transitions into a fetus, psyched to be living in a comfy womb, before getting yanked into a bright new world. The reenactment is almost too goofy to work, but it does. From there, he takes the audience from childhood through college, to the stage where he stands today.
The only props on stage are a chair and a table, which holds Quijada’s instruments, including a ukulele, a keyboard/drum machine, a harmonica, and an iPad and iPhone for looping. At the beginning of the show, the audience is asked to put their phones on airplane mode as to not disturb the Bluetooth signals. Once the play gets going, it’s clear why.
Quijada takes the audience through a journey of how he learned to love dance and theater, from his family’s post-church service parties to watching Michael Jackson on MTV. He gets cast in school musicals and starts writing poetry. He decides he wants to be an artist for a living, telling stories and performing for a crowd. But he also grapples with being the son of Salvadoran immigrants in a majority-white school. The play's title comes from an instance in which he asked an elementary school teacher where Latino people sat on the segregated bus, to which she replied, "They weren't there."
All the music for the show comes from Quijada, who plays instruments and spits beats live on stage, looping them into punchy tunes right before your eyes. He switches up the sound with impressive agility, using an iPhone as a remote. Also, he can moonwalk.
But his parents, who went through a dangerous journey to immigrate to the States and provide a better life to their children, are not supportive of his dreams. They crossed the border by dodging helicopters and surviving on little food. They don't understand why they went through all that so their son could pick an unstable career. Eventually, they come to understand why Quijada’s work means so much to him, but it’s not quick or easy.
Personality-wise, Quijada could best be described as someone who’d be great at a birthday party—high energy and effortlessly funny. His jokes cause full laughs, not just muted chuckles, like when he asks his father about how they got their name, which means “jaw,” and his father says it’s because, well, their first ancestor was said to have had a pretty big jaw.
The show moves at a quick clip, but toward the end, it slows a little as Quijada incorporates monologues about immigration and the importance of welcoming everyone into this country. They veer toward corny, like when he discusses the poem on the Statue of Liberty, but not in a way that hinders the show. These are his experiences and this is how he feels. Sometimes it has to be expressed through monologues. Other times,
Where Did We Sit on the Bus? runs at City Theatre (1300 Bingham St., South Side) through Sun., Feb. 24.