Men, as a gender, are a strange lot. Misogyny and the recognition of its pervasive presence seems to be growing. Let me hazard a theory. For many of us there is a quality we perceive in women of enigmatic, nearly other-worldly beauty. When we are enchanted and overwhelmed by the presence of another, that seems to inhabit a realm that tantalizes and exhilarates, when we’ve been afforded a glimpse of the goddess, we feel unworthy and frustrated and helpless. Perhaps the roots misogyny can be found in sour grapes, what we ache for and cannot have. And perhaps I’m full of shit.
Playwright Matthew Paul Olmos has intertwined machismo and its contempt for “feminine” qualities (weakness, humility, kindness) into so go the ghosts the ghosts of mexico, reflecting upon the impact of women in Latino culture. How violence erupts in response. If women are passive and nurturing (when genders are polarized) men must be aggressive and deadly. They must terrify the opposition; avoid anything remotely suggesting warmth. In part two of this trilogy, all the characters are male and all the actors are female. The milieu is the drug trade in Mexico and the characters are players in that tumultuous situation: cartel czars and runners and transporters. El Azul, El Chango, El Jefe, Narco Otro and La Burra swagger and brag of their prowess and bravery in lyrical terms. Their derision of women, whether deprecating by accusations of effeminacy, or discussing heterocentrism in degrading terms (You like titty-fucking?) is a consistent thread throughout. By casting these roles with women, the male culture of rage and objectification is made even more glaring and egregious. And it’s more than a little unsettling when this culture (such as it is) is expressed by women.
The gritty, vibrant scenic design by John Arnone drags us into the nightmare with brazen and intriguing imagination. Papier mache’ figures tied to the columns suggest execution and torture. Wilting red flowers adorning the figures might also be vaginas. Moving fence sections create changing boundaries and cages. Olmos has created a montage of sorts, a mashup of folk songs, dancing, camp melodrama and grim, grisly resignation. Are their values ridiculous, sacred, or both?
One by one, the characters pass quickly to ghostland, but still interact freely with erstwhile confederates. Messing with their minds. The living don’t go to pieces when confronted by their ghosts. Consistent with El Dia de los Muertos, spirits are acknowledged for their intersection with those still mortal. Olmos provides a thoroughly strange and engaging context for the Draconian tragedy of these thugs. Like David Rabe he explores the allure and rhythms and layers of fringe dwellers who still see The American dream of prosperity as paradise.
Undermain Theatre presents a world premiere: so go the ghosts of mexico (part two of a trilogy) playing September 6th-October 1st, 2017. 3200 Main Street, Dallas, Texas 75226. [Free parking at 3300 Commerce.] 214-747-5515. www.undermain.org