“Amigo del alma Huguito, compañero de viaje, caminante eterno y sobre todo sangre de mi sangre – creador, agudo, sensible y de implacable integridad. Yo te canto y te brindo con un llanto triste entre los olivos. Amor, siempre amor Hugo!”
I met Hugo Medrano when he was a very thin, young, curly haired waiter with a look alike pooch on his lap. He had yet to meet Rebecca, his future wife and soul mate. I was a student at George Washington University who helped write a grant for the Hispanic Theatre Program at the university. Even early on, it was clear to me I wasn’t cut out to spend the rest of my life dedicated to the theatre and was desperately seeking someone to share the opportunity with. A year or so passed and –already partnered with Rebecca- they began working together with a group called The Back Alley Theatre, run by Naomi Eftis, an epic whirlwind of a theatre activist in this town.
One afternoon at their New Hampshire Ave. apartment, we filled out the paperwork, paid the license and created; “Grupo de Artistas Latino Americanos”, what we know today as GALA Theatre. Very quickly, it became apparent this was their baby. Over the years, I have acted, translated, written about and, above all, befriended the couple and the theatre. We spent many a Christmas & New Year together, travelled to the Outer Banks with family and, in our youth, attended a great many parties together -some that are difficult to remember. However, the theatre was always their love affair. They adored their playhouse, breathed it, cared for it and fussed about it every single minute of every day. Never a dull moment.
From the beginning, Hugo possessed an exquisite esthetic sensibility that contributed to his superb acting skills. He also paid close attention to detail and had a passionate, almost obsessive desire to control, in as much as possible, the artistic environment surrounding the collaborative process of the theatrical creation – the essential elements of the Director’s ethos. Hugo directed quite a few memorable shows; some were brilliant, particularly once he gained experience and mastered his directorial skills. However, what many of us consider his crowning achievement, for which he won the Helen Hayes award, was his acting performance in ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ where he portrayed the Luis Molina character. It was a Broadway level acting job and Hugo was always very proud of it.
Hugo and Rebecca kept GALA going through thick & thin. They started in a small townhouse on 18th St. where I attended my first Silvio Rodriguez/Pablo Milanes concert. After Hugo’s brutal assault there, they sold the townhouse and settled in for many years on Park Road in the auditorium of the Sacred Heart School. They were joined by other creative spirits in the community, the most prominent being Quique Aviles, who would become an organizer of the youth theatre program. Finally, when working at the Mayor’s office, I had the privilege of helping them migrate to their current home at the Tivoli theatre.
GALA has always been thoroughly community based and a remarkable ensemble of local artists. Hugo & Rebecca became iconic figures in our community and thrived off the love and spirit of the entire Latino DMV. Over the years, thousands upon thousands of folks visited the theatre and were touched and inspired by the Medranos.
My Hugo was the one I saw scooting around the neighborhood to pick up a sandwich for lunch, or the one I bumped into while walking in Rock Creek Park during the pandemic. He was also a wonderful father to 3 great kids, a gracious and humorous compadre with a rapier like wit and sarcasm you never saw coming. Warm, sensitive, delicate and vulnerable, Mr. Medrano was always a class act. It is inconceivable for me to imagine walking the streets of our neighborhood never to see him again. Something beautiful and essential to my every day experience has been stolen from me and I am distraught.
Celebrated Hugo’s 80th birthday at his home and then just two weeks ago introduced him from the stage to a standing ovation at Gala’s yearly fundraiser where he delivered a strong speech and seemed like his old self. Hard to believe that he quietly expired, with his cherished photo from Kiss of the Spiderwoman and his family by his side, just a few days ago.
“Descansa Huguito, cumpliste la funcion con merito, sobresaliente… todas las criticas dan que la obra –tu vida- fue un exito rotundo… nos dejas a todos con el sabor de pintura de grasa y el olor a esos lirios del campo que te inundan los sentidos con su dulcor… Amor, amor para siempre Huguito.”