For nearly a decade, actor Caesar Samayoa has been part of the family of Broadway comedians Come from afar. Just months before the scheduled end of production at the Schoenfeld Theater, Samayoa performed his final performance in the ensemble piece to transition into a much more intimate musical: Michael John LaChiusa and Ellen Fitzhugh’s Los Otros at ART/New York Theater off-Broadway. Samayoa stars in doubles alongside Luba Mason; they play two very different people whose lives are linked in mysterious ways.
Here, Samayoa talks about the surprises of going from a big Broadway musical to a little off-Broadway musical, and what it’s like to say goodbye to your “island” home after all these years.
How does it feel to sing the music of Michael John LaChiusa? It’s difficult? Reward? How long did it take you to learn this sheet music?
This score is one of the most exciting pieces I have learned. I’ve always been a fan of Michael John LaChiusa, and to be able to work with him so intimately on a piece like this has been a dream. Our paths crossed at one of my first auditions in New York, and when I walked into the room the first day, he spoke about it, saying, “I knew we would work together!” I was so flattered. Anyone immersed in their music knows that these are not easy scores to learn. It must be in your bones. You get high with his music. It’s immensely satisfying. We only had a three week rehearsal process – not the optimal time for a play like this – but it also allowed Luba and I to continue to grow and discover long after opening night. . Watching Luba every night is a masterclass in storytelling.
As a performer, did I go from an ensemble piece like Come from afar straight to an intimate two character bedroom room where you are alone most of the time, does it take you some getting used to?
Los Otros is really two one person shows. I’ve always heard performers who’ve done solo shows say it’s a pretty lonely experience, and it’s true. At a show like Come from afar, you are constantly surrounded by a company that becomes family. But there’s something very centered about going into a bedroom room like Los Otros. You have no choice but to stay present, simplify, and feel gratitude for being able to explore a character in such depth. My character is four years old in the late 70s. And you as an actor are the only thing that says so. No big sets, no multiple costumes. Just you and what your life brings to the room. It was an amazing “next step” after Come from afar and very satisfying to be part of it.
How did you build your character’s bond with Luba Mason? Have you worked together before?
I don’t want to give too much away, but our characters only come together towards the end of the play. I watch Luba’s brilliant performance every night and find the moment when we meet so satisfying. It’s a beautifully simple and human story. When you work with someone like Luba, you can just show up, listen, and explore. I fell in love with our character’s relationship and look forward to it every night. We have never worked together before, but hopefully this is the start of many future projects.
What was your path to the character you play as Los Otros? What type of research, if any, did you do to help you construct the role?
I deeply identify with Carlos’ immigrant story of assimilation, belonging, becoming aware of racism for the first time, being an ‘other’ and finally accepting and moving forward. to honor who he is and where he comes from. I think a lot of immigrants can look at these stories and see themselves or their family members clearly. So it all felt very natural to me. Way more than many other characters I’ve played. I like having the opportunity to talk about this history and bring it to light. I feel responsible to my community to share as much of our history and authentic experiences in this country as possible. Simply and honestly.
Was there some kind of “grieving process” that you discovered after playing your last performance in Come from afarhaving done this show for so long?
My last performance was a day I will never forget. Come from afar was a life changing experience. But there is something very unique about this show that I found. Come from afar has a lovely way of welcoming you into the family for life. It sounds exaggerated, but it’s true! There are days when I miss telling the story, the community and the amazing audience, but I carry this story and its message in my heart. I always will be, and we always will be, Islanders.