“Juarez: A Documentary Mythology” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater

Conceived and Created by Theater Mitu
Directed by Ruben Polendo
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The purpose of Theater Mitu’s documentary mythology piece is clear and certainly commendable. Addressing how Juarez, Mexico could have become “The Murder Capital of the World” and to rediscover director Ruben Polendo’s hometown, the company members “began traveling to Ciudad Juarez/El Paso, meeting with anyone who would sit down and talk to [them] to create a piece with and about its citizens; in exploration of and collaboration with these experiences, memories, and hopes.”

The resulting documentary also serves as a mythology of just how Juarez deteriorated and how its landscape is now a living landscape, “a city that is growing, changing, and surviving. “Juarez” is a complicated piece and is constructed with a variety of real and virtual interviews along with home movies made by Mr. Polendo’s father over an extended period of time. Company members wear ear buds ostensibly “listening to the actual interviews” and delivering the content of the interview as the particular Juarez/El Paso resident “speaks.” The identity of the resident is flashed on a relatively small monitor located audience right: Activist, Writer, Political Scientist, Professor of Rhetoric, Hip-Hop Artist, etc. as each relates her or his socio-mythic story of survival and hope.

This methodology is complex and not always audience friendly: some of the digitalization tends to distance the audience from the horrors visited on Juarez by the violent cartel factions. Often it seems it would have been better to play the actual interviews (in the style of Studs Terkel) than listen to actors “perform” the interviews. Even if fewer interviews were included and those in Spanish translated by the actors. There is an extended interview (narrated by Justin Nestor) that takes place with an actor behind a small back-lighted screen that seems pointless – yes the person experienced a horrific event but walked away in the end. What is the point?

The fall and rise of Juarez is an important story. Unfortunately, nothing new is presented in this documentary mythology – everything has been covered by the news and activist organizations and humanitarian organizations over the years. And the methodology does not allow the audience to make any connection – emotional or otherwise – to the people in Juarez/El Paso sharing their important stories.