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5 Documentary Allies Sabina Berman and Víctor Hugo Rascón Banda Let the theater fall, let it fall on them. —Molotov Any resemblance of this work of fiction to real persons or events is intentional. —Sabina Berman If you want to really understand a country, visit its insane asylums. —Víctor Hugo Rascón Banda W hen Sabina Berman invited the mothers of a group of young men and women who had been kidnapped from a Mexico City nightclub (and later murdered and buried on a ranch) to her TV Azteca program Shalalá (Anything Goes), she walked a fine line between journalistic practice and compassionate deference. The title of her program refers to themes—any topic can be treated, and Berman has interviewed an amazing cast of characters from transvestites to presidents—but not to Berman’s style of interviewing. Her rhetorical task in this case was to avoid a game in which the audience desperately needs to dehumanize the women on stage; it was clear that the elephant in the room,a presence that is not in the least unique to Mexico , was the audiences impulse to link these women’s children to the drug trade in order to dismiss as narco-related the heinous acts committed against them. Documentary Allies 131 Berman’s modus operandi in this segment mirrors her other work: she asks tough questions (of her audience, of society) yet does so in a way that makes them palatable,leaving the topic suspended,inconclusive,so that even the most cynical might consider, for example, their own complicity—and therefore their own responsibility to engage in the public sphere of influence. As an ally of los de abajo (the underdogs), Berman in this TV program brings real-life topics to the (nonfiction) stage,which in this case is a stage at the Churubusco Studios in Mexico City made to look like a comfortable, inviting living room. Making theater from (and of) the news has a long history in Mexico as a way to present counterhistories and, at times, to point to ways to become more involved in civil society—taking advantage of postmodern concepts that allow for multiple truths without abandoning the spirit of 1968 (to choose one of many possible points in time). One of the most prolific and successful Mexican authors to do this is Víctor Hugo Rascón Banda, whose plays treat multiple topics but are always informed by his childhood in Chihuahua, where he witnessed justice and injustice,wealth and poverty.His plays often take an archival turn—he fictionalizes history in order to stage what we most prefer to avoid, for example, the case of a Rarámuri (Tarahumara) woman who was wrongfully incarcerated in a mental hospital in Larned, Kansas, for twelve years, as well as small if uncertain victories for people who engage in civil society, namely, the academic and community allies who advocated for her release. Though Berman and Rascón Banda are both part of the generation referred to as the New Dramatists of Mexico, Rascón Banda’s plays are bereft of the humor that we see in almost all of Berman’s work. His is a more somber, documentary vein of theater in the line of Rodolfo Usigli and Vicente Leñero; hers,while also clearly influenced by those authors, conjures the spirits of iconoclastic writers who use humor as a weapon: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Rosario Castellanos, among many others. Both authors tend to leave their plays open-ended, especially in the works I treat below, and both struggle to control their messages, Berman by directing or producing her own work, Rascón Banda by following—when possible—his maestro Leñero’s advice: “He didn’t ask for conventional plays, he wanted you to experiment with time, with sounds, with lights, with parallel stagings.And he also wanted plays to be closed,to not be open.I have the defect that my plays are all open and lend themselves to multiple interpretations, so directors abuse that freedom and sometimes betray the plays” (Rascón Banda, “En sus propias palabras” 25).1 The tension here is not postmodern in nature, since the idea Leñero tried to instill in Rascón Banda was that a closed ending 132 chapter 5 preserves the message of the play, especially when dealing with renegade directors . The unlikely combination of experimentation and a direct message, one not easily warped in production,is a...


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