Theater review by Helen Shaw. La MaMa E.T.C. (see the Off-Off List). By Matthew Paul Olmos. Dir. Meiyin Wang. With ensemble cast. 2hrs. One intermission.
For his phantasmagorical drama so go the ghosts of méxico, part one, Matthew Paul Olmos borrows from the true-life story of Marisol Valles García—the 20-year-old criminology student who served as the police chief in a violence-riddled town in Chihuahua, Mexico. The real Valles García (who has since fled to the U.S. for asylum) has become a symbol of nearly insane courage; her predecessor was beheaded by the cartels, and yet she served unarmed. She also proves a fine muse. Animated by keenly restrained rage, Olmos wraps his magical-realist thriller in horror-movie poetics. In this fantasy, Mari (Laura Butler Rivera) has guardian spirits—the zombies of those murdered by the cartels, as well as an insistent music that plays from unplugged radios. (The more intangible her helpers, the more we remember how alone was Valles García.)
Director Meiyin Wang layers invention into the text: Scenes are doubled with live surveillance footage, and the chalk dust covering the set billows up strangely, adding to the apparitions’ effect. What hampers the production at almost every turn, though, is playwright Olmos’s trouble switching between dialogue styles. He writes clever, menacing banter for clownish functionary El Morete (José Joaquin Pérez) and U.S. string-puller Guero (Peter O’Connor), but his more lyrical language sits heavily in his speakers’ mouths. “Please, tell it to me that you hear me,” pleads Mari to her terrified husband. It’s the message of the work, a cri de coeur, yet not even the talented Rivera can make its syntax sing.—Helen Shaw