I just finished watching the movie Piñero with Benjamin Bratt on Ovation. It was an interesting movie about the tragic life of this playwright. I had heard of Piñero, and his play "Short Eyes", but I knew nothing about him until today. And I had never actually seen any of his plays.
Miguel Piñero was born December 19, 1946 in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. His family moved to New York's Lower East Side in 1950 and his father abandoned them in 1954. His mother then moved the family into a basement and began living on welfare. At the age of 11, in 1957, he was convicted for theft and sent to a Juvenile Detention Center in the Bronx. Two years later he joined a street gang called "The Dragons" and at age 14 he began hustling on the streets.
By 1972, age 25 and already a veteran drug addict with a long criminal record, Miguel was arrested for second-degree armed robbery and incarcerated at Sing Sing. As part of a playwright workshop on the inside, he wrote "Short Eyes". When he got out the play was presented by the Riverside Church in Manhattan where it was seen by Joseph Papp who brought the prodution to Broadway. It was nominated for six Tony Awards and won a New York Drama Critics Cirlce Award and an Obie. He went on to write twelve plays and was one of the founders of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. He died June 18, 1988 in New York of cirrhosis of the liver.
Miguel seems to have been bi-sexual, leaning more toward homosexuality - perhaps a 7 on Kinsey's scale. He is believed to have had a relationships with artist Martin Wong and his protégé Reinaldo Povod.
I found myself wondering - if I had ever had the opportunity to meet this man, would I have liked him? Would I have given him the benefit of the doubt and listened to him? I suppose it would depend on the circumstances of the moment. If I heard him at the Nuyorican Cafe, I would have listened, but if I had seen him on the street, I'm sure I wouldn't have. Which is probably sad, and perhaps that is more telling of me than it is of him. The problem is, I have found, that I have very little tolerance for people that don't respect themselves and don't pull themselves up from their bootstraps and try to make something of their lives, and take responsibility for their lives.
I could not say that Mr. Piñero is actually one of those people - because he did accomplish some great things - but he seems to represent it, or at least, the film portrayed him in that way. I couldn't imagine that he actually was such a man, not in his soul. It cannot be denied that he was on the surface. He was arrested several times and spent time in prison, he literally drank himself to death. Such a person could not respect themselves. And yet he allowed himself the time to sit and write and create plays that have been, and will continue to be, performed long after his death. He became the zeitgeist of his world - the Latin edge of Alphabet City.
I would very much like to read his plays and see them performed to see if I might get a better insight into his world, better understand where he was coming from when he wrote those which, to me, often sound self-pitying. I need to see if I can find the appreciation for his work that I'm sure he deserves.