A woman representing the alma, or soul, of Mexico approaches the U.S.-Mexico border, a mendicant‘s palm outstretched. The oily-tongued explorer Cortes offers Lakers caps and baseball cards to unwary Indians in exchange for gold. Cuauhtemoc (an Aztec warrior and martyr, and the nephew of Moctezuma) and Subcomandante Marcos of the Chiapas uprising meet across the span of five centuries to condemn NAFTA and the exploitation of the Mexican people.
Such fanciful interweavings of symbolism, legend and history come together in Malinche, a bewildering but impassioned political drama written by Mexican playwright Victor Hugo Rascon Bandak and currently staged at the Grupo de Teatro Sinergia under the direction of the company’s artistic head, Ruben Amavizca.
Though Amavizca refers to the company‘s undertakings using the pronoun ”we,“ it’s clear that the group‘s vision rests with him. Nearly all of Sinergia’s productions are either by Mexican authors or revolve around Mexican or Latino themes. Since 1995, the company has staged such works as Humberto Leyva‘s Stabat Mater, about a woman coming to terms with the disappearance of her son; Jesus Alberto Cabrera’s Call of the Night Sailor, about homosexuality and Mexican machismo; and Antonio Algarra‘s A Cloudy Day in the House of the Sun, which tackles AIDS.
”I am Mexican by birth and by education, so the issues that concern me concern a lot of people in our audience,“ says Amavizca, who grew up in Mexicali but has lived here since 1985.
Amavizca has also mounted three plays of his own. One of them, Frida Kahlo (produced every year since 1993 to sellout audiences) pays for less well-attended and more controversial works. And last year, Sinergia premiered Macbato, Amavizca’s wildly loose adaptation of Macbeth, which, although based on an English-language work, is set in East L.A., uses gang lingo, and interjects contemporary themes of local poverty and injustice into Shakespeare‘s plot.
Not all Sinergia’s productions go over well. In Malinche, the eponymous character is Cortes‘ mistresstranslator, who is a controversial character in Mexican history. Depicting her as a victim raised a few hackles among those who see her as a traitor.
”I knew that some people might be offended,“ Amavizca notes. ”That’s not important,“ he adds. ”I just don‘t want people to come and see a show and not have it make a dent in their lives.“ For Amavizca — who came from a half–Jehovah’s Witness, half-Catholic, Bible-thumping family — freedom of ideas, in life and in art, are pre-eminent.
”I grew up in a country where we were taught to accept the absolute truth of the Catholic Church, and the absolute power of the government. And I think that‘s extremely dangerous. That’s why I‘m so worried about the right wing. Because that’s exactly what they are going after.“
Malinche is being performed at Unity Arts Center, 2332 W. Fourth St.; Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through March 11. Call (213) 382-8133.