- 13 Días/13 Days: How The New Zapatistas Shook The World
In their Mission Statement, the members of the San Francisco Mime Troupe detail a vision that is inclusive, accommodates multiple points of view, and bridges cultural divides. In their recent production of 13 Días/13 Days: How the New Zapatistas Shook the World, directed by Daniel Chumley and produced in association with Borderlands Theater of Tucson, the Troupe directs that vision at one of these divides—one might even call it a grand chasm—in North American politics: the relationship of the United States and Mexico. The Troupe takes for its immediate subject the uprising of Mayan peasants in Chiapas against the Salinas government of Mexico on New Year’s Day, 1994. Not accidentally, this day marks the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which threatens the very survival of such native populations by subjecting them to displacement and co-optation, and their land and resources to appropriation and exploitation.
This story of an oppressed people fighting for justice and visibility against repressive and money-driven government and commercial interests is familiar territory for the Troupe. Written by a team of playwrights led by Joan Holden and including Paula Loera, Daniel Nugent, and Eva Tessler, the play follows a diverse group of characters, each of whom tests the border between the two countries, only to discover that there are many more kinds of borders than just geographical ones, and that there are many dangers in the crossing.
In attempting this ambitious production, the Troupe makes its own kind of crossing: instead of a free, low-tech performance in the park, open to the sun and to the horizon, the Troupe moves indoors into a conventionally appointed theatre with conventional ticket prices in order to incorporate into the production a variety of multimedia, designed by filmmaker Lourdes Portillo. If the result is unwieldy and hard to follow, with too many story lines and too many themes—that is, if it attempts too much—it still is a serious effort to uncover and criticize the often unrecognized manipulation of facts through the use of technology.
More specifically, this production’s use of multimedia mirrors the strategy the Chiapan rebels themselves adopted. A large part of their initial success, and of the continuing presence of native issues on the political scene in Mexico, has been attributed to the New Zapatistas’ skillful manipulation of various electronic media to raise global awareness and thus bring pressure to bear on the Mexican government to negotiate with instead of annihilate the rebels. In other words, the New Zapatistas have managed their own appropriation of the high tech world of the internet and broadcast media, which they have used to “shake the world” and fight back against their oppressors.
In critiquing NAFTA, 13 Días attempts a similar appropriation by incorporating into the theatrical apparatus the very media that big-time politicos and spin doctors used to market this treaty to the populations of the United States and Mexico. The result is uneven. For example, Portillo uses stills and filmed sequences projected onto variously sized screens that frame the stage, and no doubt these images are meant to contextualize and otherwise heighten the meaning of the play. Sometimes they do, such as with the images of the rebels, their mouths and noses covered, their eyes staring at us in the audience. These masked faces, projected at the beginning of the show and at various times throughout, become powerfully emblematic, not only of this movement and this moment in time, but of the entire history of these people, who until now have been mostly invisible, ignored, or murdered.
However, some of these projected images are too generalized, and do not seem to have any organic and particular connection, literal or poetic, to the specifics of this story. For example, the image of a flower...