I Put the Fear of Mexico in ’em

 

By Matthew Paul Olmosteatro vista

Directed by Ricardo Gutierrez

Produced by Teatro Vista

At Chicago Dramatists Theatre

Boldly humorous blend of realism and fantasy fuels examination of ethnic stereotypes

Playwright Matthew Paul Olmos’ I Put the Fear of Mexico in ’em is a wacky comic drama that presents two couples struggling to protect the innocence of their early teen children without contaminating them with prejudice and fear. The quirky set up finds the gringo couple – Jonah (Bryn Packard)  and Adray (Cheryl Graeff) on a mini-vacation in Tijuana, Mexico where they decide to go off the regular tourist routes. They find themselves in an dank ally where they are confronted by a Mexican couple – Efren (Miguel Ninez) and Juana (Charin Alvarez) toting an M-16  rifle.

Are the Americans being robbed or do the Mexican bandits have another agenda? Pay close attention to the early clues so the 95 minute one-act will make  sense. Actually, Efren and Juana spotted the American couple crossing the border from the USA into Mexico so they decided to introduce themselves to Jonah and Adray since the two couples have something in common. The American’s daughter, Angela, and the Mexican’s son, Javier, attend school in L.A. together and the boy is smitten by the girl.    The boy’s parents fear for the safety of their son since Mexicans dating Americans can be dangerous. The boy’s parents feel if they get to know the American parents, they’ll be able to assess the potential threat to their son.

However, when the Mexicans are treated like “background” fodder by the American couple, the Mexicans concoct a ridiculous plan to kidnap the couple to force a confrontation.  I wish that this premise would be a tad clearer early on in the play so audiences will “buy into” the premise. But the bumbling kidnappers and the quirky captives embark on a hilarious journey  as each struggles to come to terms with their stereotypical views of both Americans and Mexicans.  The show uses fantasy and surreal images to present the cliched gringo view of Mexicans. From the Mariachi singer, to the pole dancer, to the drug dealer, to the corrupt Mexican police  – each stereotype get satirized. The effect of prejudice and fear of “others” leads to violence in mixed ethnic dating situations. Both couples express fears for their children. This weirdly provocative play puts a quirky spin on the fears and the stereotypes.  When the “unknown”  fears move from the parents to their children, it is the children who suffer.  The dilemma of keeping children safe without fostering fear in them  is vividly (and often hilariously) presented.

Cheryl Graeff and Miguel Nunez anchor a stellar cast. Director Ricardo Gutierrez navigates the complex script from realism and fantasy and back again striving for clarity. He basically succeeds despite a few vague transitions.  I Put the Fear of Mexico in ’em is an ambitious attempt to cover important and serious themes through humor and wackiness from fantasy to realism. It becomes 95 minutes of engaging theatre.

Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: November 8, 2012

For more info checkout the I Put the Fear of Mexico in ’em page at theatreinchicago.com

At Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago,IL, 773-599-9280, www.teatrovista.org, tickets $25, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm, special Monday, Nov 19 at 7;30 performance, running time is 95 minutes without intermission, through December9, 2012