On Thursday, I got to see Theater Mitu's production of Juarez: A Documentary Mythology at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. The play, conceived and directed by Ruben Polendo, was put together from a series of interviews in and around the city of Juarez, Mexico.
The documentary style, which included some text from interviews being sung by members of the cast, was reminiscent of work by The Civilians, and in fact one cast member, Aysan Celik, is also an associate artist with The Civilians. (I recognized her from Paris Commune, a wonderful piece The Civilians did a few years ago.)
Of course, this production did not benefit from having the music of Michael Friedman, who always does such a good job scoring the shows for The Civilians. Still, Theater Mitu did an impressive job, particularly in integrating footage from home movies shot by the Polendo's father when the director was only a young boy. These films underscored just how much Juarez has changed, from being a proud, family-centered town to being the so-called "murder capital of the world."
At the beginning of the show, a cast member points out that while Juarez has been devastated by crime, just across the river is El Paso, which dubs itself "the safest city in America." It is unquestionable, the cast member said, that twenty years from now everyplace will look like El Paso and Juarez.
Ummm.... no. I question that. I very much question that. How on earth can El Paso possibly remain safe with so much crime so close by? How do we know that twenty years from now, the entire world won't just look like Juarez? Or, conversely, that Juarez might be able to bring its crime rate down? In fact, the end of the play acknowledges that in the past couple of years, crime has indeed gone down dramatically in Juarez, though it is still unconscionably high. I don't know what the world will look like in twenty years, and I highly doubt the performer does, either.
That opening comment colored the play for me in a negative way. I kept feeling like the show was pushing an agenda rather than actually documenting what is going on in Juarez.
That's a shame, since there was a lot in the play to like. Images of men standing on people's chests, bodies being stuffed into suitcases, women being covered in sheets that are then lit as if they are on fire, these were moments of directorial brilliance. I just wish that some of the direct address by the performers had been less heavy handed.
Most of the text is verbatim from interviews, which was great, but when the performers spoke in their own voices, I found them highly suspect, and their apology at the opening of the show for their own "privilege" in being white made me trust them less, not more.
There is much about this production that is quite good, and if you want to see it, you'll have to catch it before it closes on January 19th. For more information, go here:
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater