Over the past year, we’ve all had to deal with grief and healing in unique and unusual ways, not being able to see ill love ones, attending Zoom funerals, and following national and international death counts as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Physical, psychological, and emotional distance has created space between us like never before, particularly for those of us facing loss. Writer, actor, comedian, journalist, documentarian, podcast producer, and musician Julie Piñero shares her painful personal tragedy in her online immersive one-woman show, Delejos (from afar), which continues with live Zoom presentations April 11, 17, and 22.
Broadcasting from a friend’s basement, Piñero explores her brief but passionate relationship with VR video game designer Jose Zambrano, who was working on a new project, “Delejos,” when a horrific event landed him in the hospital in serious condition. Piñero describes their love and celebrates her partner through drawings, family photos, Instagram posts, texts, punch lines, and song while discussing Carlos Santana, freezer dildos, Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory, Rick and Morty, an upstate treehouse, and the meaning of the word “saperoco.” She also tries to find her own identity amid her anguish.
“I wonder if he exists in this hybrid reality between this one and the ones he creates because it all seems to build to his newest project, ‘Delejos,’” she says. “He tells me about it on our first date. In the game he sends players on a journey to connect to something they love from afar. It’s a work in progress, but it’s unclear where he ends and where the game begins, because here in the real world he takes these little words from Venezuela and stitches across his T-shirts, and when I ask him what the word means it’s like I watch him cross the ocean to visit the place where he heard it first.”
Piñero takes us to some of those places, incorporating DIY virtual reality by occasionally asking the audience members — it’s up to you whether you want your camera on, although it is encouraged in order to build a tighter online community — to close their eyes and imagine a scene she lays out in detail. Those are powerful moments that stretch your imagination and put you in the middle of the story, which delves into grief and connection, magical realism, Latinx identity and vulnerability, and creativity in times of crisis. “His art doesn’t need a canvas,” Piñero says of Zambrano. Neither does hers, which comes together for a fascinating, and hopeful, finale.