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New plays from Mortar Theatre, Bailiwick Chicago and Teatro Luna address North American border tensions

Corazón de Manzana and The North/South Plays look at growing problems such as the Juárez femicide.

Photograph: John W. Sisson Jr.
Pre-production image for Coraz �n de Manzana at Mortar Theatre Company

“We’ve been so numbed by the great recession and the fall of the economy,” says Brian LaDuca, executive director of Bailiwick Chicago. “We’re so captivated by our money and our dollar that we’re forgetting that we’re also making decisions for these countries next to us.” The drama unfolding on the United States’ borders is the foundation for two new plays developed with the support of the city’s DCA Theater program: Mortar Theatre’s Corazónde Manzana, opening this week at the Storefront Theater, and The North/South Plays, a collaboration between Bailiwick and Teatro Luna getting a public workshop this week through the DCA Incubator Series.

In the Mexican border town of Juárez, nearly a thousand women have been murdered since 1993, a femicide that has been largely ignored by local authorities and the global community. Critics say the United States’ reaction to the tragedy is indicative of its attitude toward both its North American neighbors, a detached position that ignores the greater, underlying border issues as the U.S. focuses on domestic economic concerns.

Dana Lynn Formby’s Corazón de Manzana brings together three mother/daughter pairs via the North American Free Trade Agreement and its role in the Juárez femicide, while North/South Plays examines how border relations have changed ten years after the September 11 attacks. In a recent conversation at the Chicago Cultural Center, creators of both shows discussed their approaches.

To tackle the challenge of telling personal stories in a larger political context, the companies turned to their own experiences for guidance. “Let’s start from our own autobiographic, ethnographic ideas on what [these issues] mean for us,” says North/South Plays codirector Miranda Gonzalez. Her cousin has been missing in Mexico for ten months with authorities doing little to advance the search. “Once you give a platform to that voice, there are many other people that it applies to.”

The enactment of NAFTA in 1994 brought an influx of American factories to Juárez, and while the policy has been good for Mexico’s economy, it’s taken a significant toll on the workers. “Since NAFTA’s been enacted, the economic growth has gone up 20 percent for all three countries,” Formby says. “Except for the fact that the money is all staying up at the top end, and systematically, middle class, lower-middle class and the poor have been losing two months of pay per year since 1993. Even though it looks like they’re getting the raises, it doesn’t nearly amount to what inflation is.”

The elusiveness of information about the Juárez femicide made online research difficult for Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel, a native of Argentina making her Chicago debut in Corazón de Manzana. “It’s very hard to find. It’s very covered,” she says. “You find a name, you find a contact, and the next day it’s gone. You save the link, but it’s not there anymore. It’s kind of scary.”

As cartel violence finds its way into Arizona and California, it’s clear that Mexico’s issues have become continental ones. “A lot of times I think that north of Mexico—United States, Canada—thinks it’s Mexico’s problem,” Formby says. “That it’s a Third World country living in First World economics and they just need to figure things out. To remove us from the equation and not realize we’re part of it, especially with the drugs coming up north where they’re selling them…”

Corazón de Manzana opens Friday 26; the Incubator Showcase for The North/South Plays is Monday 29.

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