Bessy Reyna: For Actor Jesse J. Perez, Yale Rep is Like a Second Home


Jesse J. Perez (left) and Bill Camp (right) with members of the cast in In A Year with 13 Moons. (Photo © Richard Termine)
Interview with Bessy Reyna
I have always admired the work produced at the Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven, and have been very impressed by their frequent inclusion of Latino actors in their productions. While reading the press release for the upcoming play “In A Year with 13 Moons,” based on the film by controversial German director Rainer Maria Fassbinder and adapted for the stage by actor Bill Camp and director Robert Woodruff, I noticed that one of the actors was Jesse J. Perez.
Reading about the work Perez has been doing, I decided to contact Steven Padla, the always friendly Senior Associate Director of Communications at Yale Rep, who facilitated this interview.
Jesse J. Perez is one of the many Latino talents now working in movies, television and theater. And in Perez’s case, you can add operas to his list of accomplishments. Even though he was very busy rehearsing the play at Yale Rep, he was gracious enough to take the time to answer my questions.
BR: Where are your parents from and did you speak Spanish at home?
My parents were both born in Mexico. My father is from Guadalajara and my mother is from Michoacan. Spanish was the language that was spoken in the household when I was growing up. Even today when I go back to visit them in Los Angeles, it’s Spanish all the time.
Do you identify yourself as Latino/Hispano?
I definitely identify myself as a Latino. And even more specifically a Mexican/American or a Chicano.
When did you become interested in the theater?
I became interested in the theater by watching Charlie Chaplin films with my father at a very young age. I told my father I wanted to be like Charlie Chaplin, the following week I was enrolled in an intense acting class at the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting West. So thank you very much, Dad.
Your first play, what are your memories of it?
My first professional play was actually an opera, which gave me a clue into what my future would hold. I’m not necessarily a singer, I’m usually asked to act in operas by major theatre directors. The opera was “In the Penal Colony”, an adaptation of a Kafka short story by Phillip Glass. I played Franz Kafka who served as a narrator for the entire piece. I just remember how powerful I felt being surrounded by amazing music and saying some very beautiful words. I had found my calling.
Do you have a favorite playwright and play?
My favorite playwright is Federico Garcia Lorca. And its not just because he’s Spanish, its because of his poetry and his power of imagination. My favorite play of his is “Blood Wedding”. It’s so raw and full of heat and passion.
You have participated in numerous plays in many states, do you have a favorite place where you have performed?
My favorite place to perform is Yale Rep. Its become a second home for me. This is the fifth production I’ve done here and its starting to feel like an acting company from the old days. They really know how to treat the artist, and I hope to continue to work here because of the exciting work they produce. Nobody else in America is producing the type of work Yale Rep is producing.
Aside from many plays at Yale Rep you have also worked in movies, TV, opera (Lucia at the MET), as a choreographer, do you prefer one type of work or creative experience over the other?
I’m an actor first and foremost. Nothing compares to the feeling I get when I’m acting. I have ventured into choreography and doing movement for operas, but acting is where my passion really lies.
Which is your next project?
That being said, my next project is doing choreography and being part of the ensemble in a production of “Everyman” at the Salzburg Theatre Festival. It’ll be very exciting to be overseas and to put movement and dances on an ensemble of over 35 actors. It’s a bit terrifying, but I look forward to the challenge. Austria here I come.
What do you do for fun?
On my time off, I love to take long walks and read a good novel. Walking in New York is a “play” within itself. You meet so many characters and see so many interesting things. And every once in awhile I lose myself in a television series like “Mad Men” or “Game of Thrones”.
BR: Thank you so much best to you. Can’t wait to see the play.
Jesse J. Perez (left) and Bill Camp (right) with members of the cast in In A Year with 13 Moons. Photo © Richard Termine
Bessy Reyna is a member of the CT Critics’ Circle.