The Aching in God’s Heart

by Jacob Schneider on March 15, 2006

Longtime housing and queer rights activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca noticed that residents of the Tenderloin don’t often get access to theater. So he decided to take put on his new play to the neighborhood. This weekend, when “The Aching in God’s Heart”—written by Avicolli Mecca and performed by four activists—opens at Theatre St. Boniface, he hopes that the low-income and immigrant communities he advocates for on a daily basis will be well-represented.

To that end, the production has an “open door policy”; nobody will be turned away for lack of funds. Any money raised will go to the Housing Rights Committee, the San Francisco Day Labor Program, and the St. Boniface church and shelter. “We decided that as activists, we wanted to give back to the community,” said Avicolli Mecca, who works is a counselor at the Housing Rights Committee. “We don’t want this to be the kind of thing where we make money, and all of our organizations can use the support.”

The play itself is a semi-autobiographical exploration of the tension between tradition and identity in immigrant families. Sophia, played by immigrant-rights activist Renee Salcedo, is a woman constrained by the traditional expectations of her overbearing Italian family in South Philly. Meanwhile, her brother Gino, played by Avicolli Mecca, grapples with their parents’ ignorance when he comes out as gay. The play is partly based on Avicolli Mecca’s experience coming of age during the turbulent Vietnam War era.

“It’s a familiar story to a lot of people in San Francisco,” he said. “The first and second generations often have different ideas. It’s hard for immigrants because you feel a great loyalty to your family and your traditions.”

Ultimately, the play examines the conflicts inherent in close family bonds. Avicolli Mecca, who’s written a dozen plays since 1978, said that writing this one was a learning experience for him.

“I learned that I really have forgiven my father,” he said. “For a long time I hated my father for being very homophobic. If I’d written it thirty years ago, it would be a lot angrier. Looking back now, I can understand why he felt that way and why I didn’t like it.”

When he first approached his fellow cast members about producing the play in the fall, he wanted it to resonate with members of immigrant communities. A key element of the production is the fact that all of the cast members are community activists who compensate for their lack of formal theater experience with passion borne from experience.

“We’re able to make the play accessible to people who don’t traditionally have access to theater,” said Salcedo, who said she anticipates a good showing from the communities she works with at the San Francisco Day Labor Program. “We just want to share the story. If we can raise money for our organizations, that would be icing on the cake.”

“The Aching in God’s Heart” will be performed at Theatre St. Boniface (175 Golden Gate) at eight p.m. Thursday, March 16, through Saturday, March 18. There will also be a matinee on Sunday, March 19, at five p.m. The suggested donation at the door is $10, though no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

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