Tuesday August 22nd 2017

” I put the fear of mexico in ’em”

Recommended*** We all understand the word “stereotype”. We all have specific ideas about people that we think we understand, but for the most part, don’t! In Teatro Vista’s World Premiere of “I put the fear of mexico in ’em” we get an opportunity  to see just how inane this is. There are many people who think of Mexicans ( r for that matter, Hispanics , in general) as the bus boys in the restaurants visited, or the landscaper who makes sure that you lawn outshines that of your neighbor. Yes, even today, when the Latino vote changed the “complexion” of a presidential race, there are many non-Latinos who still view the Latino community as one. In Matthew Paul Olmos’ 95 minute play, now on stage at Chicago dramatists , located at 1105 West Chicago Avenue, we get to experience an in depth look at stereotyping by a “Gringo” couple who have left their Los Angeles home for the day to visit Tijuana, Mexico. Adray ( a strong performance by Cheryl Graeff) and her husband Jonah ( deftly handled by Bryn Packard) are a typical family. They have a daughter, in her early teens who has decided to stay home and attend school on this particular day. It seems that Angela has become attracted to a Mexican lad, Javier and they are concerned, but rather than look at this with an open mind, have taken the day to get away.

As they arrive in Tijuana, they are accosted by a Mexican couple, Efran ( a dynamic performance by Miguel Nunez) and Juana ( the always reliable Charin Alvarez) who as it turns out are the parents of Javier. They have followed the Gringos as they are also concerned about the youngster “getting together’, and are uncomfortable with the situation. Directed with heart and sould and a deep understanding of the subject matter by Ricardo Gutierrez, this play explores the stereotypes as well as the boundaries that it appears most parents set for their children and themselves. While we meet many people who are what we have learned to expect, a stripper ( the adorable Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel ( who also plays some other roles and a drug dealer/Mariachi and La policia all played with great character development by Marvin Quijada, these are not “real people”, but rather what Gringos see as who these people are ( or should be).

There is some confusion in portions of the play as we switch from fantasy to realism and we see scenes of the children who at first are portrayed by Nunez and Graeff and later by Cadel and Quijada. We know that LA, or at least the are of LA where Jonah and Adray live, is more White and the Mexicans are considered outsiders. So much so, that when other students see Javier with Angela, beat him. After all, he is the outsider and doesn’t belong with them. He has overstepped the boundary. In both cases, the parents are being over protective of their children, each feeling that their being together can only bring harm. The parents set the tone and children tend to listen to what they are told by them. But, who is right? Should we open our eyes to the people we meet not as Mexicans or gringos or any other culture and just learn to treat them as fellow humans? If we are or were able to do this, wouldn’t our world be a better one?

While this is a powerful story with some wonderful performances, I think the playwright might take a look at adding more to the story. Perhaps 95 minutes is not enough to explain all that he is trying to capture. There are a number of lessons to be learned from “fear” and maybe 95 minutes is not enough time to get deeper into all of the intricate parts. Javiers parents meant no harm as they knew who Angela’s parent were. They wanted to meet them so they could get to know the family of the girl their son had “fallen for”. When they were treated as “just more Mexicans”, they were hurt and decided to show these Gringos who was who and what was what. Prejudice and stereotyping need to disappear. Will they? Who knows? But in Teatro Vista’s new production, we can see just how inane these feelings can be as well as the danger they bring to us and those who are part of our lives.

Regina Garcia’s simple set serves to set the tone as do the lighting effects( Sarah Hughey), the sound ( Christopher Kriz) and the costumes( Christine Pascual). This is one of those productions where there is no need of glitz and glamour- no need to have the audience “dazzled” by the technical parts of the show. It is the words that are written, the actors who make the characters come to life and the director who puts all the pieces o fthe puzzle together for the audience. There will be some who see it differently than others and that is the beauty of theater. Nothing is forced down our throats and in the end, we get to interpret what the writer and director have tried to express, but on our own terms and in our own minds. I am hopeful that you will give this one a chance and who knows, in a few years, we may revisit the play in a new form with a little more depth.

Right now, though, “i put the fear of mexico in ’em” will continue at Chicago Dramatists through December 9th with performances as follows:

Thursday and Friday at  7:30 p.m.,Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

There will be NO performance on Thanksgiving and an added performance on Monday, November 19th at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are a mere $25 (  this is a bargain for theater of this quality) and can be purchased by calling 773-599-9280 or online at www.teatrovista.org

There is some parking in the area, meters and not and public transportation is very near. The theater is located at Ogden/Milwaukee/Chicago Avenue.

to see other reviews, go back to home page, link on to theatre in Chicago and go to review round-up. Then click on “fear of Mexico”

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