- Mexico City’s Summer 2019 Theatre Season
I reported last year that I found Mexico City’s 2018 summer season somewhat lackluster; 2019’s summer season lacked nothing. As with most theatre seasons in Mexico City, this year I was back to agonizing over which promising plays (with several hundred to choose from) I would need to miss, to dealing with sold out performances, and knowing that this report can give but a glimpse into the abundance, originality and quality of some of the season’s best.
Thirteen plays stood out to me this season. I approach most of them in alphabetical order, but I want to report first on Last Man Standing: simulacro boxístico para actores, a play written by Jorge Maldonado, directed by David Psalmon, and billed as a “Creación del Colectivo TeatroSinParedes.” It premiered in March 2018 in the Xavier Rojas “El Granero” theater, but I saw it with the same cast in the recently remodeled Foro La Gruta of the Centro Cultural Helénico. Maldonado told me that he wrote seven scenes, then the company workshopped it, and then he wrote the remainder. And actually, a published version of the text includes several scenes which did not enter into the performance I saw. The handbill proclaimed that it explored the relationship between boxing, theatre, and Mexicanness, and it delivered. As spectators entered the theater, the actors were in full boxing character, training as if at a gym. The formal play started with a Brechtian explanation to the audience that what we would see would not actually be boxing, but a simulacro of it, and that actually theatre is also a simulacro, and then the actors challenged the audience to try to keep track of the similarities between the two simulacros, and to attempt to remember that they were not reality. Much of the rest of the play tested the audience on those challenges. It first highlighted/recreated the actual 1923 heavyweight match between the world champion Jack Dempsey and Argentinian Luis Ángel Firpo, “El [End Page 127] toro de las Pampas,” the first Latin American to challenge for the world heavyweight title. Actors took on the roles of the boxers, referee, radio announcer, and a guide to the audience. Behind the fighters, and a simulacro of the fight itself, the set of lockers became a movie screen, and spectators saw footage from the actual 1923 contest. As the footage rolled and the actors recreated the fight, the guide explained how Firpo fought valiantly but lost due to some questionable calls from the referee. This scene and subsequent boxing scenes made for brilliant theatre. It included numerous contrasts, including the film and the live (acted) bout, the commentary and actual action, moments of frenetic flurries of punches and slow motion sequences and stoppages of action, during which four of the actors “froze” while the fifth, usually one of the boxers, gave insights into his (or her) unique perspective.
After a sequence showing/narrating the origins and history of boxing, starting in 17th century England, and carrying through to 2012, when women’s boxing made its Olympic games debut, it turned to the main story-line, the story of the match between the undefeated champion, Rubén “El Chacal” Olivarez, and the newcomer, Christian “El Gallo” Diez. In another clear attempt to muddy the line between reality and simulacro, the names of the competitors corresponded to the names of the actors who played them. The play culminated with the actual bout between the two, but the buildup was monumental, giving the backstories of not only the fighters, but also of their trainers, those who worked in the gyms, and the way boxing became an obsession, for good or not, for each. One digression showed Mexico’s remarkable success at producing world champion boxers and mused at the relationship: what does that success say about Mexico and being Mexican? Is it that Mexicans are fighters in the broadest sense? That they are willing to risk their all? That they know how to endure suffering? As the time for the big event approached, the promoter came to El Chacal and told him to throw...