• Cristee Cook

Learning to float: 'Swimming While Drowning' at Cara Mia Theatre Co.

Updated: Jan 16, 2020

SWIMMING WHILE DROWNING by Emilio Rodriguez is currently enjoying its Dallas premiere at Cara Mia Theatre Co. The play tells the story of two LGBTQ youths, Angelo and Mia, who meet at a homeless shelter. Through their friendship, we learn about the challenges facing the young LGBTQ community. The script, and Cara Mia’s production (Directed by Jorge Merced), is at times heartbreaking, eye-opening in its urgency, and ultimately heartwarming.

When I spoke with Emilio Rodriguez about the project, he shared that the play was inspired by his time working and volunteering at LGBTQ homeless shelters. At the time of our conversation, I was surprised when he told me that his main take away from his work at the shelters was the young peoples’ desire to have ownership of language. Now that I’ve seen the play, I understand why he shared that with me. Rodriguez’ play is poetic and the words themselves flow and ebb like water. And like water, the words spoken can be nurturing or destructive. Under Merced’s direction, ownership of language becomes a springboard for truth and acceptance.

Dominic Pecikonis and J Davis-Jones in Swimming While Drowning by Emilio Rodriguez | Photo: Cara Mia Theatre Co.

Upon first glance, the environment resembles an embodied poem. The rules of the homeless shelter are printed in large letters on the set designed by Tara Houston, but they don’t immediately register as rules. This production is sophisticated in its simplicity. Houston’s set design is the barge upon which the characters tread water, and I thought the use of words on the walls reinforced the poetry in the play.

Angelo, played by Dominic Pecikonis, has found himself at the shelter after running away from home. Angelo is the more grounded of the two, and Pecikonis is warm, endearing, and surprisingly funny as Angelo. When Angelo’s story of how he got to the shelter is finally revealed, I found it hard to hide my emotions. Through Angelo, and Pecikonis’ embodiment of the character, we get a piercing glimpse of what it’s like to know you’re hated for who you are.

Mia, played by J Davis-Jones, comes into the narrative angry and defensive, and the darker reality of the challenges for LGBTQ youths is shown through Mia’s character arc. The play never outright states what Mia’s job on the street is, but it’s assuredly a dark and dangerous job. David-Jones as Mia begins as a hard-hearted survivalist, but by the end of the play, his self-acceptance has transformed him and we see his vulnerability. Davis-Jones’ tackles this character challenge with the same subtle sophistication that the rest of the production offers.

This two-hander play about identity and self-acceptance left me feeling grateful for my own relatively easy life, and more aware of what it’s like to be an LGBTQ person in the world. The production also inspired me to face my own truths, and myself, unguarded.


SWIMMING WHILE DROWNING by Emilio Rodriguez is showing at Cara Mia Theatre Co. through December 15, 2019. Performances are Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8 pm, with Sunday Matinees at 2:30 pm at the Latino Cultural Center 2600 Live Oak, Dallas. This production is recommended for ages 15 and up due to strong language. Performed in English. For tickets, call the box office at 214-516-0706, or purchase online at Caramiatheatre.org.

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