GhettoNerd at the End of the World
El Ultimo Coconut at Annex Theater
The character “el ultimo coconut” (aka Coco) is what novelist Junot Díaz called, in his 2007 masterpiece The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a “ghettonerd”: a Latino kid growing up in a lower-middle-class Latino situation (full of thug brothers and layabout uncles and smothering single mothers) who only wants to do nerdy things like read and think about make-believe worlds, and he catches hell for that from everyone else.
In Oscar Wao, the main character prefers science fiction and fantasy to the more traditional familial pursuits of getting drunk and chasing women. In El Ultimo Coconut, a solo show by Gerald Alejandro Ford, the main character just wants to lead his “guild” through World of Warcraft games and blog to his “minions.” Even worse, he wants to go to MIT for college and study nerdy things, far away from mama, bro, and tío. And, as in Oscar Wao, the ghettonerd has some surprising opportunities to transfer the virtues of his fantasy world—bravery, nobility, self-sacrifice—into some high-stakes, real-world situations.
Ford developed Coconut while studying at Cornish College of the Arts and says its characters, including a racist militia member, are based on people he knew while growing up in Arizona. He himself has been called a “coconut”—brown on the outside, white on the inside, and round all around. “I had a hard time getting to Seattle to attend Cornish,” he wrote in an e-mail. “My folks thought I was crazy to want to leave Arizona because no one ever leaves.”
He will be leaving us, too, soon, to pursue his acting career in Los Angeles. “I wanted to take over Seattle, but unfortunately I haven’t been noticed much,” he wrote. “Scratch that, I have been noticed but everyone has had a hard time placing me. I get a lot of ‘You’re great, we love you… We just can’t find a role for you this time.’”
But Ford shines in his own work. He nails a broad spectrum of comedy, leaping in and out of multiple characters in seconds, managing to make them all sympathetic but skewering all of them for their weaknesses—including the occasionally frightened and self-entitled coconut. El Ultimo Coconut feels a little rough-hewn in spots (it is an extension of a student project, after all) but is consistently entertaining and even shows glimmers of brilliance. Catch him now, in Annex’s intimate room, before he flies away.