NEW YORK CITY: The drug-war violence that has unfolded along the border between Mexico and the U.S. might prompt some artists to create dark, documentary-like theatre rife with sobering statistics. But Chicago-based writer/directors Devon de Mayo (whose work with Dog & Pony Theatre Company is featured on page 30) and Seth Bockley are taking a different approach. In collaboration with La Piara, a company based in Mexico City, de Mayo and Bockley are tackling themes of brutality and war with unlikely techniques in GUERRA: A Clown Play. The piece—which bowed this season at Chicago’s In the Works showcase series, the New York City Clown Theatre Festival, Tricklock Theatre Company’s Revolutions International Theatre Festival in New Mexico, and in Mexico City at Foro Shakespeare—goes on to a July 11–21 run at NYC’s The Tank.
TanDe Mayo met Artús Chávez, a member of La Piara who is a clown and director, back in 2005 at graduate school in London, and the two have been looking for ways to collaborate ever since. “Clowning felt like a very interesting tool to use in exploring violence,” ventures de Mayo, who brought her colleague Bockley into the mix.
“We were inspired by the idea of showing the spectrum of drug-war experiences from the seemingly safe higher-ups in the military all the way down to the ‘grunt’ troops, and clowns seemed really well-equipped to tell that story,” confirms Bockley, who points out that “playing war” is a classic children’s game around the world.
Moreover, “There is something sadistic about slapstick comedy,” Bockley observes. “The audience sits in their chairs while right in front of them, a character onstage is experiencing extreme pain or violence.”
In Guerra, as Bockley tells it, a military general and a captain receive word from their superior about new efforts they must make in order to defend their homeland, and proceed to recruit a likely soldier “to fight the war for them.” (The drug-trashing trio is played by La Piara’s Chávez, Fernando Córdova Hernández and Madeleine Sierra.) “Our defend-the-Alamo-type narrative gives us a stable structure that we can then digress from widely,” Bockley adds. The play proceeds through a mash-up of incidents, including a recruitment-style lottery fashioned after “The Price Is Right,” an antic rendition of the French nursery song “Alouette” and Beyoncé-inspired dance moves. “The piece has an unrelenting spirit of play,” Bockley avows, “but it’s a one-way descent into the chaos of war.”
De Mayo likens the proceedings to a theatrical Dr. Strangelove. “It’s about the absurdity of war,” she says. “The characters are poking fun at both American and Mexican military traditions as well as revealing the hideous nature of war. Hopefully, you find yourself laughing throughout the show, and then at the end, feel a little embarrassed that you laughed at all.”