Ricardo Vazquez was in a jam. He needed to take publicity photos for his upcoming role as the buff title character in “Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue” at Park Square Theatre, but he was still playing Augie Garcia, the burly godfather of Minnesota rock ‘n’ roll, in “River Road Boogie” at the History Theatre.
What to do?
“Timing is everything in our profession,” he said. “I learned to play guitar for Augie and will do what it takes for Elliot.”
Fortunately, he’d already been going to the gym for a few months. But he had to get a buzz cut and shed 15 pounds for the role.
“I love to work,” he said. “I love to dig into these characters.”
That’s a good thing because five years ago, the twenty-something actor had a quarter-life crisis. Fresh out of the BFA program of the Guthrie Theatre/University of Minnesota, he moved to New York and was working north of the city with a company that did tours of Shakespeare.
“New York requires you to believe in yourself 120 percent, but I started wondering if I’d made the right career choice,” he said. He was being typecast as a young lover and he wanted to play other roles. So he came back to the Twin Cities, where he had grown up, for a vacation. After pounding the pavement, he snagged jobs at Mixed Blood Theatre and elsewhere, including the title character — a prison convict — in Luis Alfaro’s “Oedipus el Rey,” produced by Teatro del Pueblo and Pangea World Theater.
Two years ago he won an Ivey Award for best emerging artist on the Twin Cities theater scene.
His career is a far cry from the options he may have had in Honduras, where he was born before being adopted by his Puerto Rican father and German-Luxembourgian mother.
In “Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue,” he plays a young Puerto Rican-American Marine who has just returned home from the Iraq war with a Purple Heart.
“I’m glad to be playing Elliot because I’ve always identified as Puerto Rican,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of time there as a family and I get to bring all of that to the stage as I play this soldier who’s from generations of patriotic servicemen.”
Quiara Alegría Hudes’ drama, a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2007, kicks off Park Square’s season. It’s the first installment of a trilogy that won Hudes a Pulitzer for Part 2.
“Lots of people forwarded the script [of ‘Elliot’] to me because it’s a rare contemporary role of a character like this,” Vasquez said. “I’m just happy to be part of it.”
And if he were not an actor, what would Vazquez be?
“Probably a scientist,” he said. “My brother’s an accountant, so he’d still be the one getting the laughs. I’d be digging into things.”
Sept. 11-Oct. 4, 20 W. 7th Pl., St. Paul, $27-$60. 651-291-7005 or parksquaretheatre.org