Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Polendo's Juárez in transition: "Never mention hope. Say 'I'll do it!'"

Theater Mitu's Justin Nestor
in Juárez: A Documentary Mythology
below: Aysan Celik

Bill Clinton got lots of mileage from the name of his Arkansas hometown-- Hope. But the people of Mexico's Ciudad Juárez--infamous for entrenched government corruption and murderous drug cartels--would prefer that their city be known for tough determination rather than anything as passive as hope. That's one message from Juárez: A Documentary Mythology, a play conceived and directed by Theater Mitu's artistic director Rubén Polendo (Rattlestick Playwrights Theater through January 19).

Drawn from numerous interviews--including conversations with folks in El Paso, right across the US border--Juárez might remind many of Anna Deavere Smith's award-winning documentary monologues. But here, the profusion of real-life personalities--factory workers, activists, artists, counselors, journalists, academics and more--are channeled through six white actors, all handsomely expressive in the spoken and sometimes sung material. Unfortunately, an aggressively didactic approach--text and visuals packed with statistics and touching upon complex issues--threatens to unbalance the delicate connection between a New York audience and the Mexicans and Texans whose lives and perspectives we learn about. Still, from the start, Polendo--a son of Juárez who has family there--wins our sympathy for a city he believes can be restored to the safety and beauty remembered from his youth.

Juárez is, the play says, "emblematic of what the rest of the world is going to look like." It is "a laboratory for the future." As Alfredo Corchado's recent article for The Dallas Morning News indicates, recovery will be no simple process. But Juárez: A Documentary Mythology offers one way to remind Americans that all our fates are bound together.

Performances by Denis Butkus, Aysan Celik, Adam Cochran, Ryan Conarro, Michael Littig and Justin Nestor

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
224 Waverly Place, Manhattan

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