Sunday, April 10, 2016

Director Roxanne Tapia Closes Teatro Paraguas' 2015-2016 Season with Comedic Charmer 'Welcome to Arroyo's'

Who's arresting who? Daric Gutierrez playing Officer Derek taking in Amalia (Molly) Arroyo played by Alix Hudson (Photos by Carla Garcia, courtesy of the production)
Even more amusing than swinging a big blunt stick at the head of a Donald Trump piñata, director Roxanne Tapia's joyful production of Welcome to Arroyo's cracks open Kristoffer Diaz's playful and comedic exploration of (some of the important) edgy divides in Manhattan's Lower East Side Nuyorican culture. Forgive me for being a bit dazzled by the show: I belly-laughed my way through the 90 minutes, which delivered if not Aristotelian catharsis, the kind of relief that can come from laughing oneself silly.

The play is set in 2004, though it's unclear why Diaz picked that year and not another. There's no mention in the play of the main event that year: no reference to the NYPD giving protesters to the Republican Convention a taste of Guantanamo on the Hudson. But it was a year in which there was a marked uptick in the number of Latinos harassed by the NYPD's bogus-to-the-max Stop and Frisk Program. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, 89,937 Latinos were stopped and frisked that year, up from 44,581 in 2003. In 2005 the number would swell to 115,088. In 2006 147,862. The number peaked in 2011, a year in which 223,740 Latinos were stopped and frisked by the NYPD. As law enforcement policy Stop and Frisk was completely illegitimate, and has been acknowledged as such. But as an effective means of social control, huge hassle and painful distraction to Latinos who were losing more and more ground to developers gobbling up prime LES real estate--very effective.

I mention this because early on there's a moment in the play when Diaz's graffiti-art-appreciating NYPD beat cop (played by Daric Gutierrez) busts Amalia “Molly” Arroyo (played by Alix Hudson) for tagging the back of the police station, a provocative grief response to the recent loss of her mother. The nakedly frightened look in Hudson's eyes when he approached her put the truth to those statistics. And the dialogue is informed. Molly's only 18, but clearly she knows the drill:
Officer Derek: Stay right there, drop the can, hands on the wall.

Molly: You're like two steps behind, son. Should be up to frisking me already.

Officer Derek: Are you carrying any weapons and/or narcotics on your person at the current moment?

Molly: You sound all young. And you don't want to frisk me?
Officer Derek: Young lady I understand that you're frightened. You've probably never been in trouble with the law before. But don't worry, it's my job to get you back on the right track.

Molly: You gotta be fucking kidding me.
And then because it's a comedy, they fall in love. And then because it's a fantasy, she punches him out. I don't usually laugh at acts of violence, but I roared at that slug.
Latina cultural historian Lelly Santiago played by Cristina Vigil
Arroyo's has other concerns on its mind—interesting questions about the role of art in the service of strengthening community, about the importance of recovering exemplars of Latina feminist cultural history for a more complete and robust communal identity, about the crucial role of intellectuals in community building, and ultimately about who gets to get their hands on the mic and what do they do with it once they get it?

Tapia makes sure that none of these considerations are overshadowed by the show's party-like atmosphere and improbable love stories. They're integrated into her direction as she deftly moves the characters around the multi-level set she designed with Hudson. Starting with Lelly Santiago played by a bespectacled Cristina Vigil.

Bursting the confines of the proscenium from the get-go, Lelly's practically in the audience herself bursting with excitement at what she's on the verge of discovering. Standing outside of Arroyo's, which until recently was a bodega but is now a bar, she's in a heightened state. In a kind of thrall to the narrative she's spinning in her hopeful imagination, she clues us into what she's investigating—Is an originator of Latin Hip-Hop, a woman named Reina Rey who, Rimbaud-like, vanished from the scene in 1980, the recently deceased mother of Alejandro and Amalia Arroyo? And more personally, was Rey the lady she bought candy from when she was a little girl living in the LES? Are her scholarly worlds and personal worlds about to collide?

These are questions that have all kinds of redemptive possibilities for Lelly who escaped tenement life for the Ivy League and the suburbs, and who now wonders if the skills she's bringing back to Loisada are even welcome at all. Is she a boorish over-intellectualizing intrusive freak, or a talented persistent hands-on cultural historian whose gifts will come to be valued by her former neighbors? Vigil, who recently appeared in the Vortex Theater's production of Bless Me, Ultima, expresses her character's struggle bodily: the lovely young actress becomes in these soliloquies a kind of centaur--half-woman half-thoroughbred filly chomping at the bit, reining herself in, straining against the starting gate of her own high stakes race to clarity.

There's this running joke in the play about the officer who ridiculously is named Derek Jeter (yeah, that's the cop's name, and he's no Yankees fan), and it got me thinking about names: why Welcome to Arroyo's and not Santiago's or Garcia's or Lopez's?
From Wikipedia
Arroyo. It's a gulch, a marker in the dryness where the wet will be when the rains come. But how to bring the rain, or in the case of the bar/lounge, the customers? Trip Goldstein and Nelson Cardenal (played respectively by the superbly comedic Jonathan Harrell and Matthew Montoya making his low-key funny-as-hell Paraguas debut) have the answer—local live performance. Deejaying at Arroyo's...well, it's okay, but these homeboys want to rap. In fact, they want to rap with every fiber of their being, and Tapia makes sure we feel it. Like two school boys squirming in their seats, hands raised and waving down the teacher standing only feet away from them, their irrepressible need to rap has them spinning like the lps on their turntables.

Harrell, who in Arroyo's somehow looks a full decade younger than his actual age, is especially beautiful to watch in this regard--arms in the air, torso twisting, dancing to the art form his character passionately wants to be part of. His control over the volume and speed at which the outrageous jokes issue from his fresh mouth lands somewhere between the borders of impressive and phenomenal. Whooosh, whooosh, the words come flying out through his smile, and astonishingly are always intelligible. He doesn't just talk fast, he communicates fast, and the show wouldn't be half as much fun were he not in it.
Matthew Montoya, Jonathan Harrell and Rick Vargas
Matthew Montoya plays Nelson as Trip's affable more subdued partner who nonetheless wins his share of laughs. There's a bit when he flicks the lights on and off to pretend they have strobe effects. It's funny but telling—Nelson will make do with whatever he's got to work with, but oh he wants more. But Trippy Trip and Nelly Nel are up against Alejandro's closed-mindedness, and they can't budge him from his magical thinking and the mantra that affirms it:
Alejandro: A bodega needs to be a bodega. A bar needs to be a bar. We do what we're supposed to do the way we're supposed to do it. The customers will come....It worked for my mother.
Rick Vargas, who was trained in theater at Northwestern, thoroughly embodies Alejandro, the sturdy and dignified barkeep displaced by grief who's struggling to manage this unfamiliar place he's created in a blur in the month since his mother died—is it a bar or a lounge and what the heck's the difference? Fully present, Vargas is an actor's actor who conveys more with the placement of his suspenders than many others do with an entire costume change. The distracted way he handles the receipts as he tries to lose himself in accounting chores lets us know business is not what's primarily on his mind. Contrasted with the very touching moment when he reaches for Lelly in an embrace of acceptance; he enfolds her completely, pulls her to his heart, and they both regain a sense of equilibrium.

He plays Alejandro with an acute sensitivity to the character's condition as a son in the throes of deep loss. He's weighed down by his filial responsibilities; they keep him locked in ritualistic routines of hope. But few customers appear, no matter how briskly he wipes down the bar and polishes the already pristine stemware. He clocks in and out just as his mother did--he's holding a place for her. In time, he'll let it go.
Rick Vargas as good listener Alejandro Arroyo warming to Lelly Santiago played by Cristina Vigil

These serious emotional meanderings through the arroyos of grief and renewal are punctuated by moments of high camp and hilarity. None so much so as when Daric Gutierrez draws his roller brush from his gun holster to aim his desire at Molly's tag on the police station wall. It mimics DeNiro's classic “You looking at me?” moment in Taxi Driver, but it's hysterically funny in its sheer inspired goofiness.

Which brings me to his love object, the rebellious Molly Arroyo played as a hell raiser on steroids in a very fine and moving comedic performance by Alix Hudson. 
Alix Hudson playing Molly talking to her big brother Alejandro played by Rick Vargas
 Hudson, who dyed her hair dark for this role, gives her versatile all: from her perfectly polished Nyurican accent...her full-throated head-thrown-all-the-way-back laugh of sisterly derision...her shoulders-hunched-forward ferocious charging through “the streets” to paint, come what may...the way she holds the can in her almost trancelike, prayerful miming of the act of spraying an imaginary wall...the ardent first kiss instead of a poke in the eye she lays on Officer Derek Jeter --in all of these she breathes puffs of poetic breath into Amalia's contours, and finds (and exposes) the many tender, raw parts of her homegirl's innards, the wounded loneliest places that she's healing in her art. It's a beautiful, striking and vulnerable performance. Somewhere Dionysus is smiling.
Viva Vela!
Tapia's painterly use of color  is subtly sophisticated. Because of the liveliness of her actors one never notices the monochromatic palette until it's replaced with the vivacious brightly-colored panels by muralist Sebastian "Vela" Velasquez, and the vitality that has always been there, hiding in some realm of potentiality, is discovered and revealed.

There's a fantasy scene in which Reina Rey (also played by Hudson) kicks the boys out of the deejay booth and takes the mic. Tapia's direction here is pared down, minimalist, the action plays out almost in slow motion, relaxed but not casual. When Rey takes the mic it's with a deliberate purposeful sense of inevitability, of cultural history being made even if it remains underground. The moment is now, you were either there or you weren't.



Director Roxanne Tapia has taken the mic. It feels like a fulfillment for Teatro Paraguas, maybe even a turning point. In the program's Director's Notes, she writes:

I love that Arroyo's lounge is a place where the Lower East Side community can come together. A place that unites them and gives them something they can't get anywhere else. Teatro Paraguas is that, here in Santa Fe!

That's it. That's all I got. Enjoy the show!”
Welcome to Arroyo's will play through April 24th, Thursday – Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. At Teatro Paraguas, 3205 Calle Marie, Santa Fe, NM (505) 424-1602 www.teatroparaguas.org $18 general, $12 limited income Pay-what you wish Thursdays

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Imagine That: Leonard Peltier Wrongfully Incarcerated for 40 Years

Photo Credit: Kerri Cottle Photography



 Doing time creates a demented darkness of my own imagination...
Doing time does this thing to you. But of course you don't do time.
You do without it. Or rather, time does you.
Time is a cannibal that devours the flesh of yours
day by day, night by night.

 — Leonard Peltier, Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sundance

Leonard Peltier could not be present at the exhibition of his artwork at the second Indigenous Fine Arts Market (IFAM) in Santa Fe, NM, held on August 20-22, because he's been incarcerated in the U.S. federal penitentiary system for the last 40 years. He's currently in Coleman (Florida), a known “gang prison,” a brutal and violent place subject to frequent lockdowns lasting not uncommonly for as long as a month.

Maybe next year?

While the primary focus of this article is not the case for clemency, the reality is that presidential intervention is his only remaining avenue to freedom. Barring the appearance of some staggering new piece of evidence, all appeals for a new trial have been thoroughly exhausted. The feeling among his inner circle is that a new president, whoever it may be, is unlikely to risk involvement; but a lame duck president just might quack Peltier's way. The mere fact that this show has almost miraculously manifested whets the appetite for hopefulness.
 Thus began an article I wrote for Red Wedge Magazine last autumn. Sovereign Imagination: The Art of Leonard Peltier



Interviewing Leonard Peltier by phone that day was a personal turning point. It reconstituted me, made me rededicate myself to my own commitments, which are many and deep. Freeing Leonard is one of the most important ones. If Leonard were to die caged behind bars, a part of all of us would too. It would fall in the category of unforgivable offenses.

He needs our help.

Just a few days ago the International Committee to Free Leonard Peltier issued this health advisory about Leonard's deteriorating condition, an emergency even more pressing than clemency They wrote:

Two weeks on and still no relief for Leonard Peltier! Leonard Peltier is faced with a very life threatening, fast growing aortic abdominal aneurysm. Have you sent a letter to the federal Bureau of Prisons? You may send a letter or fax daily asking them to transfer him to a proper hospital capable of handling this sort of emergency. Please, in the name of common decency and human rights, write today. To fax, you can use these free online faxing services: https://faxzero.com (US) or https://faxzero.com/international (International). Please make reference to Leonard Peltier #89637-132, currently at USP Coleman I.

Warden Tamyra Jarvis
USP Coleman I
846 NE 54th Terrace
Sumterville, FL 33521
Fax: 352-689-6012

Helen J. Marberry
RO Southeast Regional Office
3800 Camp Crk. Pk. SW
Bldg 2000
Atlanta, GA 30331
Fax: 678-686-1229

Office of the Director
Federal Bureau of Prisons
320 First Street, NW
Washington, DC 20534
Fax: 202-514-6620

Leonard's condition does fuel urgency to the events planned worldwide on February 5th and 6th to demand clemency for Leonard Peltier. I hope you will join me at the New Mexico actions:

* Albuquerque, New Mexico *

STAND OUT in ABQ

STAND-OUT to Demand Clemency for Leonard Peltier
Pete V. Domenici United States Courthouse
Albuquerque, NM  87102
Friday, February 5, at 3:30 p.m. (MT)
***
And on February 6th:
LetterWriting
Saturday, February 6 at 10 AM MST
ENDORPHIN POWER COMPANY
509 Cardenas Dr SE, Albuquerque, NM 87108
The FreeSpook Movement invites you to join us in supporting the incarcerated. We will be writing letters to folks around New Mexico and around the country, particularly to those identified as political prisoners, although most of us consider all prisoners to be political prisoners.
Letters and messages of solidarity may not abolish prisons but are a good way of supporting our incarcerated family and friends.
Supplies will be provided. Bring food and non-alcoholic beverages.

And:
ABQ Flyer
First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque
3701 Carlisle Boulevard NE, Albuquerque, NM  87110
Saturday, February 6 at 3 p.m. MST
Please join us to commemorate the 40th year since Leonard Peltier’s arrest in Canada on February 6, 1976.
Potluck – Please bring a dish to share if you are able.
Featuring:
  • La Mesa Middle School-Shawl Dance
  • Peltier News/Update
  • Panel Discussion and Q&A with Radmilla Cody, John T Nez, Jean Whitehorse, Lenny Foster
  • Performances by Def-I, Anthro and Lady Yazzie
Solidarity groups, please contact us for table space and arrangements at 505-217-3612.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ali Abunimah's Battle for Justice in Palestine Comes To Santa Fe


Story by Frances Madeson; Portraits by Robert Esposito

We live in peace and privilege in Santa Fe. So much so that when one hears the term “Chicken Wars” one's mind immediately flies to the neighbor-to-neighbor squawking in Eldorado, the well-to-do enclave where after lengthy and contentious litigation backyard chickens were finally deemed not to be household pets, and were banned.

It was painful for people to have to part with their chickens; the lawsuit had felt intrusive, very much like overkill. There were relationships, routines, very real cross-species attachments, as well as the material boon of fresh cruelty-free eggs. But I invite you to contrast that upset and sense of loss, genuine and heartfelt as it is, with this description of mass slaughter in Ali Abunimah's The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2014):
During Operation Cast Lead, for instance, the Israeli forces invading Gaza destroyed the chicken farms of Sameh Sawafeary and his family in the Zaytoun area. Over several days in early January 2009, the UN-commissioned Goldstone Report records that Sawafeary and other witnesses hid in terror as they watched “Israeli armoured bulldozers systematically destroy land, crops, chickens and farm infrastructure.” In all, thirty-one thousand of Sawafeary's chickens were killed. He estimated that a hundred thousand chickens had been killed at other farms. This widespread destruction was confirmed by UN satellite imagery. In discussing the army's assault on the farms in the Zaytoun area, the Goldstone report states: “The systematic destruction along with the large numbers of killing of civilians suggest premeditation and a high level of planning.” It finds that the Sewafeary chicken farms, the 31,000 chickens and the plant and material necessary for the business were systematically and deliberately destroyed, and that this constituted a deliberate act of wanton destruction not justified by any military necessity.”
 Who's nest gets feathered as a result of the foul carnage?
The Israelis could offer no explanation that contradicted those factual findings. But where there was no “military necessity” there was a commercial opportunity. Sewefeary told the UN investigators that he and his family had supplied 35 percent of the eggs on the market in Gaza. Egg prices soared due to the large number of chickens Israel destroyed; Gaza's stores are now full of frozen chickens supplied by Israeli firms.
Pitched throughout in the measured yet devastating tones of the above passages, Chapter 4, Neoliberal Palestine, breaks down for those of us who've heretofore been securely nesting in our own personal comfort zones the totality of the economic barbarity on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank. (More so in Gaza for reasons Abunimah explains very well.)

Perhaps because of worsening economic conditions here in New Mexico—persistent joblessness, homelessness, food insecurity, state-sanctioned predatory lending, debt and wage slavery, for-profit prisons and their abuses including protracted solitary confinement, the ongoing seemingly ceaseless plunder by the extractive industries of resources from public lands (some of them sacred to Indigenous peoples), and frequent reports of high-profile corruption by the political class who mercilessly rules us—Abunimah's message resonates in a way it might not have previously in more prosperous, less hazardous, times.


Again and again with the greatest consideration for his readers, Abunimah finds the words to penetrate the haze of not-knowing, and recounts the many ways in which Israel (18 Israeli billionaires in 2015, zero prior to the Occupation) profits from the wholesale butchery. His “for instance” in the first quoted passage above (the italics are my own) is made explicit, instance after bloody instance. From Chapter 4:
Israel has also repeatedly destroyed dairy processing plants (Israeli yogurt is a big seller in Gaza) and on January 4, 2009, bombed the El-Bader flour mill—the last one still operating—destroying it completely...

The fates of these and hundreds of other shuttered Gaza businesses illustrate that whatever economic destruction Israel could not achieve with the blockade, it finished off with the air strikes...

Overall the value of Israeli exports to the “Palestinian Authority”—the West Bank and Gaza Strip—grew from just over two billion dollars in 2006 to $3.6 billion in 2011. This puts the captive Palestinians among Israel's top ten export destinations, ahead of the United Kingdom, Germany, France, India, Japan and China.

Palestinians” Abunimah claims, “have become guinea pigs for practices that the global financial crisis laid bare all over the world: neoliberal economic policies pushed by the United States, the European Union, the World Bank and the IMF. All this has been done with the active collusion of countries that claimed to champion Palestinian aspirations, and, of course, of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

At a fund raising event for Electronic Intifada, the
independent online news publication focusing on Palestine founded by Abunimah, held on December 3rd by Santa Feans for Justice in Palestine,  I asked Abunimah about this claim face-to-face.
I will never walk away from this fight, but I'm ready.
I don't want to linger a day more than necessary.--Ali Abunimah
Frances Madeson:Reading that passage I became interested in the possibilities that the calling out of this “active collusion,” as you put it, creates. It generates a moment to potentially redraw the lines of the conflict to more accurately reflect what's at stake. This isn't just some entrenched seemingly insoluble real estate squabble between Israel and Palestine, this is a case study for global capital to extract all kinds of knowledge from their “guinea pigs.”
About limits of tolerance. About submission and resistance. About how much sacrifice of justice peoples will make for even the cheapest kind of peace.

What else would you say? What kinds of data has global capital gained from their lab animals? And equally, what's been learned about them?

Ali Abunimah: The answer is in your question. We've seen the total failure of these experiments on their own terms. The Palestinians were supposed to become depoliticized consumers who would be content with shopping malls, credit cards, and a few material advantages. This prosperity was always illusory for the vast majority.

The Palestinians remain in revolt, and they are determined to secure their liberation. They've learned that resistance is stronger, though neoliberalism is very powerful. The Palestinians have been creative about resisting, which is as true in Palestine as it is in other places.

FM: I was struck throughout the book by your concern for poor Israelis, how you  extended your thoughts in their direction to consider how neoliberal economic policies have also adversely affected them. That seems so generous to me, and so right. And I'm wondering if this compassionate connection could have more juice in terms of coalition building with poor Israelis?

AA: This is really important.

There is no current organized political expression now for that, but it will become critical in the future.

I quote liberally from Michele Alexander's The New Jim Crow on that very point. The comparison in the U.S. would be the failure to form solidarity among working class Blacks and Whites after the Civil Rights Era meant that poor working White people were vulnerable to political exploitation. Politicians could manipulate the racial discourse and enact the Southern Strategy. We have to learn from that and build solidarity among the people.

We're not quite there yet.

FM: In Chapter 4, you quote Columbia University professor Joseph Massad “who predicted in 1994 that the PLO
will come down in history as the only Third World liberation movement who has sought liberation through selling the resources it expects to “liberate” to international capital before it even “liberated” them. Western countries and their global instruments of economic domination, the World bank and the IMF, are already devising different types of plans for investment in the Municipalities of Gaza and Jericho once their projected mayor, Yasser Arafat, takes office.

A few things are impressive about this passage—its meta perspective, its justifiable undercurrent of outrage at the way these cruel shakedowns of vulnerable peoples actually operate, and perhaps especially that Massad was able to see this particularly egregious sell-out in real time as it was unfolding. Where was your own thinking in 1994 in relation to these insights?

AA: I was not yet writing publicly at that time, I was a student. My major influence regarding my thinking about the Oslo Accords was Edward Said. He validated my instincts and helped me crystallize my opposition to Oslo.

And Massad said similar things, absolutely. And how sad, how tragic that that was in 1994.

FM: Would you care to comment about Time or Duration in relation to this liberation movement? What do you see as the horizon for significant change?

AA: It's so hard, I always feel like the possibility for radical transformation is always there. We cannot predict the moment, the hour, the day...I'm not a particularly religious person but I believe it says in the Bible that no one can know the minute of the day when the Messiah is going to come. Our work in the moment creates the conditions that could bring that about in our lifetimes.

I believe it's something we'll see in the near future, it will happen within a few short years. I don't think it has to be decades or generations. Too many lives have already been lost.

And the Nekba generation deserves to see the beginnings of justice in their lifetimes. The urgency is there.
FM: One of the things that so impressed me in The Battle for Justice in Palestine is how you identify Palestinian individuals and corporations (name, rank and serial number, so to speak) who are betraying the interests, the very survivability of their own people. You cite example after example of complicity, cooperation and enrichment of the Palestinian Authority and what you repeatedly call “a small Palestinian elite” comprised of both Diasporan and Indigenous Palestinians.

AA: It's their tough luck. I'm inquiring about matters of public record that are of critical public interest. They can't hide, people have to be held accountable.

People criticize me all the time. I accept the price of being out there in the struggle. In the book I gave the example of the new planned city of Rawabi, highlighting the problems there [problems such as dispossession of locals by Palestinian tycoons for the creation of luxury housing marketed to foreigners, even Israelis, and the almost total lack of transparency and public input in the planning process].

I approached the tycoon many times; he had multiple opportunities to respond.

FM: You write about the Industrial Zones which have been established in Palestine by Turkey, Germany, Japan and the World Bank ostensibly to “improve infrastructure, create jobs and prepare for statehood.” But in actuality you argue that “the Zones make Palestine more subservient, reliant on the occupier for permissions—access, movement, transfers for tax purposes.” You predict that “Palestinians might without even realizing it, exchange Israeli occupation for occupation by multinational companies.” And you also raise the specter of the kind of abuses that are ongoing in the equivalent “Zones” in Jordan.

Specifically, you recount that "by 2006, fifty-four thousand people worked in the zones, 2/3rds migrant workers from Sri Lanka, China, India and Bangladesh who often must endure a 96-hour work week with wages less than forty cents per hour, lack of medical care, and who are subject to confiscation of their passports, persistent sexual harassment and rape by managers, and housing in jail-like conditions, for which workers' wages were illegally docked.”

Do you foresee this kind of unconscionable abuse of laborers as imminent in the Industrial Zones already created in Palestine?

AA: Conditions are already bad enough for Palestinians.
Since I've written the book, I don't know if the Zones are up and running. But, Capitalists want to make money and these Zones are not a very good investment. The thing I put out in this discussion is: “How are you going to compete in the race to the bottom?”

We are not powerless. We are going to hold Israel to account through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). Republican Party Presidential candidate Jeb Bush recently said to the Republican Jewish Coalition that if elected he would use the power of the Attorney General's office and the U.S. Department of Justice to do whatever it takes to stop BDS.

Americans need to stop and think about the ways in which our own basic freedoms are in danger.
Samia Assed inquired about Israeli attempts to interfere
with free discourse on Facebook and Google.
After a superb Middle-Eastern dinner generously provided by Albuquerque resident Samia Assad, in the general Q &A Abunimah expanded on the theme of the encroachment on American liberties. He told the 40 or so attendees gathered in the home of environmental and civil rights attorneys Mariel Nanasi and Jeffrey Haas about Jeb Bush's remarks, and also that Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had recently declared in a letter to an Israeli billionaire that: “If I am president I will dedicate myself to fighting BDS.”

Abunimah pulled no punches: “These are folks that are willing to put Israel above the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

There were audible groans when Abunimah described the attempts by Palestinian financiers to push 30-year home mortgages down the throats of a culture unaccustomed to home loans, interest and easy enslaving credit. The numbers, and their consequences, are laid out in compelling detail in Chapter 4, Neoliberal Palestine.

Consumer credit increased sixfold, from $70 million in 2008 to $415 million in 2011; car loans almost tripled, from $40 million to $122 million. The Bank of Palestine advertised consumer loans for Palestinian Authority employees of up to twenty-five times their monthly salaries, a package that included something called an “Easy Life Card.” Most of this easy money went to pay for goods imported through Israel, benefiting Israeli companies and Palestinian middlemen. ...

Credit for real estate and construction tripled from $188 million in 2008 to more than half a billion dollars in 2012. ...
As the Palestinian elites in Ramallah were on their credit-induced spending binge, by 2011, half of Palestinian households in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were struggling to obtain sufficient nutrition, with one-third classified as food insecure...

The record shows that, as Palestinians communities struggled to maintain their presence on land and in the homes threatened by Israeli settlements, the US and international agencies were working with Palestinian developers and officials to concoct new ways for economically stressed Palestinians to be thrown out of their homes.
      

"Having Ali Abunimah visit New Mexico has been phenomenal," Samia Assed told me. "Especially for my kids, who will never forget this evening. They got the chance to hear this proud Palestinian speaker, an unfiltered source of information you really can't get anywhere else, with all of us gathered here together witnessing his genius, the way he processes things, his courage. It's been a gift. And especially to be here in Jeff and Mariel's house. This feels like home, like family."

Building on the strength of its past eventsprotests against U.S. support for Operation Protective Edge, its successful fund raising efforts to install a water filtration system at the UN School in Khuza'a (in Gaza) and to rebuild their kindergarten destroyed in the bombingSanta Feans for Justice in Palestine is currently raising $7,500 to help the unhoused Palestinians of Khuza'a somehow survive the rains and cold of winter.
From the group's Facebook page:
The United Nations has called the humanitarian situation in Gaza dire. The ongoing blockade by the Israeli government means that the citizens of Gaza are unable to rebuild and repair the devastation wrought by the last round of bombings in the summer of 2014.
As the winter draws in, the people of Gaza are in desperate need of fresh water, warm winter clothing, heating stoves, blankets, and insulation kits to prevent frostbite, hypothermia, and even death. Children, who make up 50% of the population, are particularly at risk.
Please donate: https://mecaforpeace.ngpvanhost.com/form/3203449786646726656 or mecaforpeace.org/khuzaa
 
When my time with Ali Abunimah was concluded, naturally I thanked him. Not only as a matter of courtesy for his exertions in coming to New Mexico (four programs in three days in three cities
Santa Fe, Las Vegas and Albuquerque), not only for the incisive interview he granted Written Word, Spoken Word, or for publishing his brave and enlightening book, or for his editorial leadership at Electronic Intifada. But for the almost superhuman patience, grace and dignity of the Palestinian people.

Free Palestine.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Yemayá's Belly at Teatro Paraguas Lifts All Boats

Review by Frances Madeson; All images courtesy of the production
Every night you go to sleep, you lay down on your family's ashes. When you breathe it's your wife. When you walk you can feel her under your feet. When you breathe you don't know what's a burned blanket and what's your wife's skin. You can't tell if the ashes are from a book or your wife's hair.  –Scene 8, Yemayá's Belly

For New Yorkers alive during the events of September 11, 2001, this was the truly terrible thing unsaid as we went through our routines in the aftermath. How could we know, how could we tell, whose lifeless remains were mixed into the very particulate matter that one had no choice but to inhale? This was its own kind of horror, that in this very real and material sense there was no separation between those to whom 9/11 happened in the worst possible way, and the rest of us.


When only-child 11-year-old Jesus, the protagonist of Yemayá's Belly by Quiara Alegría Hudes, loses both his mami and his papi in a terrible and sudden inferno in Magdalena, his personal twin towers fall all the way down. Orphaned and destitute, he flees to the nearest city where he's temporarily sheltered by a compassionate shopkeeper before embarking on an ill-conceived voyage to an illusory America. It's hard not to read the play, which won the 2003 Clauder Prize, as a fledgling but undeveloped post-9/11allegory. But unfortunately even these undertows rippling toward issues of the utmost gravitas do not buoy our interest in this precious, sometimes preposterous, debut play, whose creator would go on to win a Pulitzer for later work.

And yet, consistently interesting things have been happening at Teatro Paraguas all summer and fall, and the October 2015 production of Yemayá's Belly was no exception. Those who were deterred by the savage reviews that past productions  have received“gut-souring” “hackneyed” “not all that magical”missed the chance to see a skilled local company grappling with a seriously flawed text, at times navigating toward some moments of extraordinary fullness and freshness and then at others, frankly, listing astern rather than forward.

Kana Gaines and Sabrina Garcia
Perhaps the greatest joy of  the production was witnessing Kana Gaines immerse herself in the pants role, the 28-year-old actress dissolving into the boy on the verge of a premature sink-or-swim pubescence. She played this child propelled by external circumstances to a nascent manhood with an almost uncanny naturalness and fluidity. Her performance was reminiscent of some of Anna Deveare Smith's portrayals of young male characters in Fires in the Mirror or Twilight, characterizations that Smith shaped by dramatically altering her physicality—personality and psychology grounded in the finely articulated body language.  

In Gaines' case she played Jesus as an agile if gangly-limbed Dennis the Menace whose mental alertness and mischief-making were inextricably bound up with his dexterity and nimbleness. And as delightful as it was to watch the rambunctious boy gamboling across the spare stage to ascend a coconut tree, some of Gaines' most sublime moments were grounded in a concentrated quietude, moments when we got to watch Jesus at rest, sometimes at the feet of the adults, listening and actively thinking. Thoughts registering in tiny movements in the facial musculature or brightness in the whites of the eyes as he reckoned at first how best to win at dominoes, and later how to transcend catastrophic loss. 

Argos MacCallum, Jonathan Harrell and Ms.Gaines
Alix Hudson, a fine bi-lingual actress, passionate poet and produced playwright in her own right, directed the play and designed its set and audio effects. It is one of this production's great strengths that she slowed time down enough to let us watch thoughts bubble up and take hold of Jesus and propel his surprising decisions about when to lie, when to pretend, what's worth stealing, which risks one might chance taking. It's so rare to be allowed to watch someone very much in need of a wisdom that might guide a necessary cunning obtain it by connecting the dots right before our eyes. 

It's perhaps counter-intuitive that an unevenly written script would benefit from more onstage time; a more clever director might have found ways to move the action briskly along in the hopes the lapses in quality might go unnoticed in the hurry to the curtain call. But Hudson's not merely clever; she's better than that. She saw possibilities in the material that others have not, and had a certain kind of faith in her actors' abilities to fascinate just by being themselves. In the main, she was not wrong.

But the odd directorial flub also became evident in the fullness of the breath. What's a flub in my lexicon? It's a missed opportunity to communicate something vital. In Scene 6, Jesus is tending Mami as she lays wrecked and not long for this world, rubbing ointments on her soon-to-be fatal burns. Hudes has written a fantasy moment in which mother and son share a lullaby and a dance before Mami glides off to the afterworld:
I'm going to the sea/To meet my secret love/If she remembers me/The sun/The sun/The sun/I'll sing her all my songs/And as her songs are sung/I'll dance within her waves/The sun/The sun/The sun/The sun lives at the edge of the sea/The sun says she will wait there for me/The sun/I'm going to the sea/To argue with the rain/And when the clouds are gone/The sun/The sun/The sun
Hudes doesn't provide music for the prosaic lyrics, but she does provide clues contextualizing this lullaby. Jesus says to Mami: “You should eat,” He tries feeding her but there's no response. “I'll sing you a song. How about the one we used to sing on the farm and try to bother papi while he worked. When he was grumpy.”

One can imagine all kinds of cadences and tunes for this sunny ditty they used to sing to cheer up papi, and that Jesus now wishes to reprise to revitalize his mami. The least likely perhaps being the one chosena melody of melancholia, which under the circumstances pushed the encounter towards bathos, reinforced by the equally bathetic dance, a perfunctory waltz. By contrast, that moment begged for a more Caribbean-inflected tune and a confident Latin dance. It struck me as both a temperamental and esthetic misread to depart from this family's own cultural milieu for an alien solace. As a result the scene, like Mami herself, was more or less dead on arrival.   

The underwritten role of Mami (only eight lines before she's killed off in the big fire) was played by Roxanne Tapia, who is arguably one of Santa Fe's most acutely sensitive and expressive actresses. But in some sense her hands were tied because of the dirgelike melody and nonrhythmic dance, and she was almost forced to radiate or exude a kind of vague maternal caring in the very moment when her character could have been actively expressing a complex and nuanced non-verbal goodbye. Or rather, adios. Adios to her body, adios to her only son, adios to her own abruptly snuffed-out life.

Roxanne Tapia and Kana Gaines
In her second role as Lila, the caring but practical shopkeeper who shelters Jesus in the city after the fire, Tapia communicated the contradictory impulses at play—dearly wanting to help an unprotected child, but not really in a position to take on this grave responsibility—in a single gesture. An embrace that simultaneously offered a moment of comfort to a new orphan, while holding him just slightly at a distance.

Sabrina Garcia, recently returned to Santa Fe after an eight-year stint in Manhattan, played the dual roles of Yemayá, the Santaria mother of the oceans, and Maya, the slightly more experienced girl with whom Jesus sets off to sea. We're lucky to have her back in New Mexico. The Yemayá speech is perhaps some of the least enjoyable and most oppressively bland writing in the play:

Remember me like you remember your ancestors
memory more vast than your human years
Search back to the treasures in your birth
and find me there...

and so on. But bless her heart, somehow she delivered the lines without rolling her eyes, and she looked very beautiful in her ocean mama costume replete with seashell headband.    

Gaines and Garcia
In her hands Maya was played with a delicacy just under the surface of the bossy take-charge teenager. Delicacy enacted in the way she ate the Spam (which was redolent in the small theater) just touching her finger to the “meat.” Delicacy too in her approach to the kiss between Jesus and Maya, which could have been embarrassingly smarmy, but thankfully was not. Quite the opposite, there was a touch of sweetness. It evoked other theatrical teenage kisses: not so much the passion of Eros between Romeo and Juliet, but the ardor for life of Anne Frank and Peter Van Daan.  

Argos MacCallum mesmerized us as Tico, described in the cast list by Hudes simply as “a man who hacks open coconuts.” Hude has written Tico an almost impossibly obtuse soliloquy absurdly delivered to a coconut shell filled with rice (at least Hamlet got to talk to a skull), which despite his empty belly he has not cooked and eaten:
This rice is my wife's ashes. I'll remember her voice that way. Her cooking. Her beautiful skin. Her dark skin. Her mulata hair in braids. She is not ashes. She is rice. I'll speak to her through the rice. Here's her heart. She can be so soft and so hard. Here's her body, and she doesn't have to be buried. I can carry her by my side.
Hudes writes what she calls a “ritual” for Tico, in which he pours the rice over his head, and collapses to the floor:
He kneels to the ground and touches the rice around him. He lies on the ground, on top of the rice. He spots one grain of rice, puts it in his mouth and swallows it whole.

What can I say about this moment? To his great credit, MacCallum somehow disconnected from the demand that these words be infused with meaning (something to do with his wife's faith, she was a holy roller) and went for broke allowing grief to electrify and contort his body so bizarrely but with such total commitment that one just chalked these arbitrary words up to a seizure of madness in which Tico doesn't quite know what he's saying. And it doesn't matter, because what's been communicated surpasses the gibberish.

In a (coco) nutshell, MacCallum slayed it.  


Jonathan Harrell, who played Jesus' uncle Jelin, also dug deep to overcome the trite expository passage written for his character as he and Jesus prepare Mami's grave.
When my mother died, your father and I dug the grave. Our father, your grandfather, he tried to help but he was crying the whole time. He dug with his back to us so we couldn't see. We could tell. His eyes were red and puffy. When he died your father and me dug the grave. Just the two of us. We didn't march through town. We didn't have money to pay the priest. But after the fire, I buried your father alone. But I thought you should be here for your mother. She would like that. Sometimes you have to be like my father was. You want to cry but you turn your back and hide it. You don't let the world see.

He soon punctuates this heavy-handed and lachrymose life lesson with a slap to Jesus (written in by Hudes). A lesser actor might've thrown up his hands in despair, but Harrell tapped into some inner source of outrage and found a way to justify hurting a child in the midst of burying his own mother. Harrell recently played Happy in Ironweed Productions presentation of Death of A Salesman at Santa Fe Playhouse, and it is one of my biggest regrets of this theater season that I missed his performance in that classic. I look forward with great eagerness to his next star turn.

Garcia and Gaines
So much about the direction of the play, particularly the vivid and full-bodied actorial choices that Hudson helped her actors to discover and fulfill, was exciting, especially in those moments when they transcended the obvious limitations of the text. The humble setsome few risers, some sand, a few crates and stools, arranged against a watery blue backdrop were adequate to suggest the various settings as they changed from exterior to interior, rural to urban, land to sea. The propsa coffee cup, feather, a box of well-used dominoes, an aged barrel full of rice, a worn machete–all looked as if they were plucked from the farmhouses of an authentic agrarian village. One cannot help but think what good use this company could make of more substantial  resources to adorn the heart of what makes Teatro Paraguas so enlivening as they fulfill their mission of bringing the works of Hispanic, Latino and New Mexican literary artists to the stageits extraordinary talent pool.

Skip Rapoport designed the show's lighting with artistry. It was a pleasure to let one's eye wander around Jesus' world and occasionally settle on the sparkly flashes of mica in the sand. Beautiful to land upon these starry reminders of our origins. Beauty perhaps not adequately transfixing to keep Jesus rooted to Magdalena, but by all means sufficient to keep theater audiences wholeheartedly rooting for Teatro Paraguas.