Marisol Valles Garcia was called “the bravest woman in Mexico” when she, as a 20 year old criminology student, volunteered in 2010 to become the police chief of her small town which had become ruled by violent drug cartels who beheaded Garcia’s predecessor. so go the ghosts of mexico, part one is playwright Matthew Paul Olmos’ “poetic impression of what Marisol did for her country” rather than a literal retelling. In this magical realist show, the dead police chief returns, zombie-like, to aid the character of Mari. He is harkened by la musica which emanates inexplicably in surround-sound throughout the town and appears to be coming from an old car radio plugged into nothing.
The magic doesn’t end there. Mari and her husband continually speak to their unborn daughter, an invisible character onstage. In one scene, the husband himself becomes a similarly invisible, but addressed, character. El Morete, a low-level drug dealer and bumbling henchmen to the cartel, is also drawn in by la musica which consumes and tortures him. Rounding out the characters is the rather mysterious Guero, an American with ambiguous intentions towards Mari.
Olmos’ play is intriguing with its unique blend of factual and fantastical. However the character of Mari feels underdeveloped – on principal she carries no gun, yet she appears to have no plan (or staff) as police chief. Her bravery seems to come from the fact that she took on the position (which occurred prior to the start of the play), yet nothing the character does in the play appears to be courageous or even deliberate – she seems to instead just float into and through (what are often dangerous) circumstances. Nick Benacerraf’s stationary set constructed out of stereo equipment is evocative and multipurpose, serving as home, police station and a number of other locals. Director Meiyin Wang’s does a good job drawing out the mystical elements from the script and creating a very specific atmosphere, but both my companion and I left confused about key plot points due to a lack of clarity in the storytelling.
Laura Butler Rivera captures Mari’s youth and femininity while Luis Moreno, equipped with a deep and powerful speaking voice, is suitably creepy and driven as the Dead Police Chief. The cast is completed by Bernardo Cubria as Mari’s rather spineless Husband, Peter O’Connor as the enigmatic Guero and José Joaquín Pérez as the rather stereotypical bad guy, El Morete.
To think that this story takes place in 2010 is rather mindboggling; so go the ghosts of méxico, part one serves to bring our attention to Marisol Valles Garcia’s largely unheard story, to draw needed attention to the danger of drug cartels (often fueled by money and people from the United States) and to the quality of life in this lawless and underserved area of Mexico. I am interested to see what Olmos will highlight in the next two parts of this important and timely trilogy about the US-Mexican drug wars.