Julio Monge A Life in Professional Theater

Interview by Dale Reynolds

Puerto Rico-born Julio Monge came on board to the superb Los Otros production, currently running at the Music Center’s The Mark Taper Forum, after the first act had been written and performed and after the second act was in the writing stage.  Originally from Fajardo,  Puerto Rico, Monge attended the University of Puerto Rico/Rio Piedras, near San Juan, majoring in drama.  A member of the University Choir, he had also been studying ballet since age 13, and working as a professional dancer when he decided to make the move to New York.  “I moved to America so I could have more opportunity working professionally, but found that my lack of proficiency in English held me back,” Monge explained.  “But musicals opened up that world for me.”  (See review of Los Otros HERE)

His skills as a dancer led to his being cast in the original company of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, where he was exposed to the music of Bernstein, Sondheim and musicals such as West Side Story, Peter Pan, and Fiddler on the Roof.  He brightens when admitting, “It was like finishing up my [college] degree and it opened up the doors for me in NY.”  He was cast as both a dancer and/or actor in many Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals, strengthening his training.

He began studying Shakespeare at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan.  Producer George C. Wolfe asked him to come to the Public Theater to be part of the Shakespeare Lab, where he studied for two months.  At the end of that process at a performance, the great Vanessa Redgrave saw him.  As he transformed into a classical actor, he was cast in the Broadway version of Antony & Cleopatra, directed by and starring Ms. Redgrave.  Later, he was cast by Ms. Daniele in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, musical based on the Gabriel García Marquéz short novel.

The Capeman on Broadway in 1998

Monge’s his first big singing role was opposite Ruben Blades and Marc Anthony in Paul Simon’s The Capeman which ran for only 68 performances on Broadway in 1998.

Monge continued to study. “For longevity, you need a foundation that is solid, either in school or the old fashioned way,” Monge explained.   “I had dedicated at least fifteen of my then twenty-six years to training.”  Monge is not particularly keen on how universities have taken over much of the actor’s training.  “Younger people are not starting at the bottom and working their way up by learning from more experienced actors in a play, for instance.  But we make our careers happen by studying what we don’t already know.”

In Los Otros Monge’s character ages – in various stages backwards and forwards – from 12-75.  He was originally attracted to the script because, he says “It was a new way of experimentation.  Michele [Pawk] and I were comfortable with the demands of singing and acting. So the question for us was, ‘How could we weave this together?”  And contiues, “Figure out the best way to make it happen, seamlessly — making the story as clear as possible?   It was fun – a playground in which we could immerse ourselves with the nuances, the curves and the corners.  Ellen, Michael-John , Graciela were there every day; working together [with us] as a team. Most of the work for the piece was the weaving of the format, which was something new.  We rehearsed two weeks at Lincoln Center.  Then we came here for two weeks.”

Monge as Minotour (top center) in "Phaedra Backwards"

Monge readily admits to being gay himself, currently single and “dedicating myself to enjoying my life as a 45-year-old.  I had studied for so long, and have had  relationships, including a partner of four years, but after that ended, then my life became all about my professional endeavors, including working around the world,  but I am open to the idea of having a new mate, a relationship which will complete my maturing process.  I love relationships; it’s nice to come home to a hand that is supportive.”

In terms of his sexuality, being gay is not a problem:  “Why should I be ashamed?  I’m not into hiding.  Over the years, I’ve had three different couples in my life, lesbian and gaymale, who have asked me to be a witness at their marriages.  It filled me up with such pride – I was so elated by bearing witness to the importance and significance of recognition by the state, as it validated us as citizens.  You have to live it.  One of the male couples was 81, in a relationship for thirty years.  My lesbian couple had been together for twenty years.  I relished that they’d been given their place and their rights to protect each other.”

Playing a Mexican-American also isn’t a problem for him, although it might be for Chicano activists.  “I have played Cuban, an English duke, Mexican; that’s my job –  to be flexible and undertake the demands of the play,” he enumerated.  “I believe in this process of exploring as an actor.  The layers of the character;  the whole of the character.  Any fuss?  Not at all.  Not enough Latin people have come to see it yet for it to be an issue.”  I’m just glad we have good Latin parts to play.”

For Monge, Los Otros reflects the reality that almost everyone, sometime in their lives, has felt the sting of being treated like “los otros — the others.”  But now that he gets to act it out night after night, those feelings are rapidly becoming strangers to him, at least, and to the rest of us, over time.

Los Otros currently playing at Mark Taper Forum Till July 1st