“Un Pueblo sin Teatro es Un Pueblo sin Verdad–A People without Theater is a People without Truth,” Rodolfo Usigli, 1905-1979.
Don’t know of Usigli? He was the “Redeemer of Mexican Theater,” author of “ElGesticulador,” The Imposter.
This important play by this too-often forgotten playwright will be presented at the University of Texas Rio Grande, Edinburg, Jeffers Theater, April 10 through 14.
Direction is under Dr. Richard Edmonson. Good theater, whether or not you know something of Usigli or of the Mexican political context. (Panel discussion after matinee performance, 2:00 P.M., Sunday the 14th.) This coup will help ensure a revival of interest. BRAVO! Kudos to UTRGV Drama Department, the director, actors, crew, and staff. Usigli will become even more significant, not only in Mexico, but here, in the US and around the world. (His collection rests in Miami University; Ramón Layera, translator, and Director of one of the earlier performances.)
Usigli’s play was written in 1938 but not published until 1940 and not performed until 1947—and at that time, censored. Usigli was influenced by the renowned Secretary of Education, José Vasconcelos (of “La Raza Cósmica fame). He was a creative, multi-lingual artist. He received a Rockefeller Foundation grant to study at Yale, was Press Secretary for President Lázaro Cárdenas (he who nationalized oil). He worked with Diego Rivera and Trotsky and was a friendof philosopher and diplomat Octavio Paz (“Critique of the Pyramid”).
As Mexico often does, this creative soul was named ambassador to several countries. He worked with other major novelists and essayists, such as George Bernard Shaw, who wrote: “Mexico can starve you, but they cannot deny your genius.” The simple play touches on complicated issues of identity crisis, heroism and corruption, as a result of the Mexican Revolution and its aftermath. Its hero (or anti-hero?), César Rubio, is a college professor, researching the Revolution. He is confused with another person of the same name, in fact, a military hero of the Revolution; he becomes consumed by this lie. The play suggests we are all, in a way, searching for our own identity.
For me, the historical and political context is important: Mexico’s Independence from Spain, 1810; Mexican Revolution, 1910. against the dictator, Díaz, as well as U.S. and foreign capitalists; the intellectual and artistic renaissance under President Obregón, 1920; the Catholic Church on the side of the wealthy, 1926; the “Frozen Revolution,” domination by one political party (PRI), take-over by old and new elites, the bourgeoisie; a brief rescue by populist President Lázaro Cárdenas, 1934.
To bring it into today’s political context, we recall the defeat of PRI by right wing party, PAN (Fox) 2000; the return of PRI (Peña Nieto) 2012; the election of a demagogic, racist, anti-Mexican U.S. President (guess who?), 2016; the defeat of both PRI and PAN with the election of President Andrés Manuél López Obrador—AMLO– by his left-of-center party, MORENA, 2018.
The right wing, before, during, and since the Revolution, has not forgiven leaders (Juárez, Cárdenas, AMLO) who are on the side of the poor, the Indigenous, the campesinos.The fight (and the corruption) goes on, not only in Mexico but in our own society, as pro-masses and anti-masses forces vie for power. This broader political context provided background for Usigli.
This context still informs our own understanding of a great deal of art and drama, as we encounter the dilemma–“who’s side are you on?” “The Imposter” will provoke painful but useful memories and urges. If you have any inclination of acquiring more insight into the fusion of Mexican and U.S. historical identities, then don’t miss this play at UTRGV. It will be a unique learning, as well as artistic experience.