Voices of Juarez
nytheatre.com review by Fred Backus
August 15, 2004
Inspired by the rash of killings of young women in the Mexican border town of Cuidad Juarez over the last decade, Voices of Juarez takes us through the final days and post-mortem aftermath of Lydia, a fictionalized representative and spokeswoman for the city’s victims. Appearing as Lydia’s spirit, Yale undergrad Kristen Hunter, the show's creator, takes us through a community infested with corruption and misogyny. Lydia is forced to work in a factory through the incompetence of her crooked, abusive, and alcoholic father, her male supervisors dehumanize her and her co-workers, the factory bus driver tries to recruit her for prostitution, and the male police force is unable or unwilling to solve a wave of almost ritualistic brutality against women that continues to take its death toll in the background until it rises up and snuffs out the main character.
That there is something monumentally wrong in Juarez is clear, and Hunter understandably sees and addresses it as a systemic problem inextricably linked to gender. Hunter is a grounded performer who successfully translates her moral outrage to the stage. In doing so, she has crafted a clear and sometimes compelling narrative into an effective propaganda piece that certainly calls attention to a situation deserving both acknowledgement and action.
But the simplicity of the approach can be troubling. Hunter launches into her first male character with a hyper-macho swagger and by balling her fist into her pants to represent his offending organ, a clear sign of what is to come. Voices of Juarez is awash in one-dimensional stereotypes—the women wise, patient, supportive, or heroic; the men stupid, unfeeling, corrupt, or depraved. Lydia’s boyfriend alone among the men is cast in a good light, but he drifts into fantasy as a Mexican Romeo from a feuding family. Director Aole T. Miller neither rounds out these stereotypes into characters, nor sharpens them into archetypes.
The forces at work causing the epidemic of violence against women in Juarez are multifaceted, involving an interplay of domestic violence, serial killings, official corruption, deep-seated gender roles, and economic imperialism to name a few, and while one can’t expect anyone to explain what in real life is a mystery, a better acknowledgement of the complexity of the problem might be called for. Voices of Juarez certainly touches on these themes, but too often resorts to clumsy cliches, and seems to end by pointing the finger at a vague but omnipresent patriarchy, which is pretty much where we began.