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MALINCHE

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ile many great new plays may strive to be original, inspired, or thoughtful, in this case it appears what the playwright longed to create was something very important. It seems rare nowadays that a writer tries to do that, and even rarer that one is able to succeed so beautifully. Seldom do we see art and politics mix without a sacrifice of subtlety and substance-yet playwright Victor Hugo Rascon Banda has built something brilliant, interesting, vastly educational. A look at Mexico's past that is also entirely a look at the present. The playwright set the bar high for this ensemble, but they meet him at every turn. Director Ruben Amavizca Murua and a supple, talented cast have sincerely committed themselves to making this work work.The central story revolves around the controversial figure of Malinche: the young indigena who became translator and lover to the brutal Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes. Long a symbol for deeply conflicting emotions about Mexican identity, Malinche has been looked at through myriad lenses-as a traitor, victim, heroine, prostitute, perhaps to some degree fascinated by the Spaniards, perhaps repulsed. Here she is a witness to atrocities, a bridge between two cultures, the abandoned mother of a country.Through costumes and gestures, the story of Cortes and Malinche is transported to modern-day Mexico. Cortes becomes a slimy swindler who scares indigenous people into filling his hat with gold. They want to trade him for something-he gives them cards and a little video game, a baseball hat, a scooter. We laugh at the absurdity of these objects in their hands-yet the image is also deeply resonant and disturbing. Underneath the humor lies a dark stab at the Faustian deal that Mexico has with the U.S. through NAFTA: Mexico offers up her store of resources (her oil, trees, labor) in exchange for an endless supply of U.S. kitsch. The play is filled with such moments, where the past is squarely related to the present, where the comical is underscored by the horrific.The piece is constantly changing moods and modes from satirical to poetic, as if Banda wants to incorporate every possible way of looking at its subject-wants not only to reenact history, but to criticize it, to sing folk songs, to preach, to chant.As Cortes, Ricardo Rocha is simply magnetic-a sleek mafioso type, wily, yet weak, communicating brilliantly through body language. As his translator and concubine, Minerva Trujillo is cold, defiant, yet allows her face to function as a perfect window into her character's fear. Alex Montanez gives a passionate, moving portrayal of the defiant "indio" who refuses to lay down arms. As a modern Mexican president (a thinly veiled caricature of President Zedillo?) Gabino Reynoso renders keen comedy that delivers the satirical undertone with a punch. Tonantzin Carmelo is brilliant as another modern incarnation of the Malinche theme, an indigena who, in a strange dreamlike scene, morphs into the light-skinned blonde that commercial culture seduces her into being.There is just so much right with this production. Ezra Bervera's set is smartly crafted: the tree-colored walls of the set hide rooms that collapse forward, or doors that open into mysterious rooms. The sound design (uncredited) is an accomplishment in itself, as rich soundscapes are created through folk music, sounds of traffic, drumming, thoroughly evoking each place the play chooses to visit. Eve Miller and Liane Schirmir's English translation is loving and clear. What this team of artists and performers deserve is more than applause-it's gratitud

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