Harambe was not brought back to life by mad scientists to run for president. The 43 Mexican students tragically kidnapped and killed in Iguala are unable to tell their story.
For a short, sweet time, however, it seemed like anything was possible on the stage of Mayan Hall.
In just a brief amount of time student playwrights Alyssa Castillo, Judith Del Angel-Chambers, Cynthia Galaz Ochoa, Brittany Gallina and Luke King revealed hidden truths that underlie politics, relationships, scary new technology, sexual orientation and corruption.
A festival of six short plays that ran just 10 minutes each left an impact. Each mini-marvel was a modern tale that expressed the plight of real people and a secret side of society.
“America’s Hero” stepped back in time to the 2016 presidential race, not to right a grave wrong, but to teach a lesson about the nature of American politics. Castillo found a hilarious vehicle that used worn pop-culture references to reveal how the celebrification of presidential candidates might be good for television ratings, but it does little to help voters select competent nominees to lead the nation.
Two mad scientists, Dr. Frank and Dr. Stein (Jordan Holguin and Ivan Monroe) resurrect Harambe (Salvador Martinez-Mendez), a 440-pound gorilla that gained instant online martyrdom when he was shot by a Cincinnati zookeeper after a child fell into his enclosure.
By attaching a device to Harambe’s forehead, the mad scientists gave the gorilla the ability to speak like the dogs in “Up,” but not the ability to speak well. It is, however, no longer surprising that a dumb monkey could become the leader of the supposed free world.
When Harambe wins the presidency he makes an attempt at spiritualism with a speech about being “the Alpha and Omega” and declaring “we are one.” By the time the speech is concluded with a “God Bless America,” the irony has become so overwhelming that it was only natural that everyone would start dancing to “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down,” also known as the Looney Tunes theme song.
In “Armchair Psychologist,” a young woman struggles with school, dating and her insecurities while people keep asking the question, “Do you know what your problem is?” Leilani (Jennielyn Cato) goes through a number of stressful hardships, including losing her textbook, going on a blind date and coming out of the closet, which transforms people around her into unwanted faux-psychologists.
Leilani’s mischievous friend Cheri (Melissa Gonzalez) wants to help her relax and sets her out on a blind date with a schlub named Brad (Arthur Wentworth). He is so repulsive he scares off several women before Leilani even shows up then hits on the bartender when she looks away for a second.
Cheri was trying to help Leilani face her own feelings by setting her up with a bad guy. “Armchair Psychologist” helped demonstrate the plight of people who struggle with anxiety and depression, and how loved ones can help reduce these symptoms. Its honest depiction of mental disorders was refreshing, since far too often the mentally ill are poorly portrayed in one-dimensional stereotypes.
“The Surviving Queen” begins with a drag queen calling out the name of the protagonist. Lorena (Lorena Sahagun) is a young woman who is working hard to be independent after the loss of her father. Luckily she has Manuelita (Edgar Rodriguez), her drag queen best friend to encourage her to act when she begins to dwell. Manuelita scores with the help of plenty of bilingual humor and an impossibly positive attitude.
Gustavo (Arthur Wentworth) taught his daughter to think of the world as a game of chess and ponder each move as if it was her last. He told Lorena that the queen is the strongest piece on the board and that she was his queen. To remember her father, Lorena carries the white queen with her and every day she plays chess on the computer, pretending that she is playing against him in spirit.
When she faces a crisis of faith, Lorena retreats into her mind, where her father is always available to play another game. Gustavo has become her conscience and safe space.
“My father is the king we lost and with it our kingdom,” she said.
“Is it worth it to struggle alone by yourself?” Manuelita asked.
“Yes,” Lorena answered. “But it is scary.”
“Thank You for Flying with Us” was a comedic look at the future of human-like robots and artificial intelligence that shows that customer service will never improve. Lolita and Rene Gomez (Melissa Gonzalez and Salvador Martinez-Mendez) want to go to Cancun, but the android 2R Dito (Arthur Wentworth), insists they are registered for a trip to Dubai…and SANDY, the AI in charge of Deltec airlines, does not make mistakes.
It does however, like to mess with humans.
Rene tells it to go to hell.
“I’m sorry Mr. Gomez, but Hell is full,” the robot replies.
“Acceptance” is a look at the challenges many LGBTQ people face when it comes to their identity and their family. Alyssa Evans (Alyssa Castillo) attempts to change her mother’s mind about gay marriage and sexuality. Donna Evans (Melissa Gonzalez) is disgusted by the idea of homosexuality and equates same sex marriages to bestiality.
“Never bring home a girl,” Donna tells her mother.
“What if I did?” Alyssa challenges. Instead of admitting it, she presents a hypothetical question many people have had to ask in order to test their love ones.
Alyssa fears that coming out of the closet would cause her mother to disown her and not love her anymore, but her girlfriend Jess (Cass Garcia), tells her that if her mother stopped loving her for being gay, then she did not love her in the first place. Alyssa does not want to lose another parent. Her father left because her mother cheated on him, but somehow homosexuality is a bigger sin than infidelity in Donna’s eyes.
When Alyssa is caught kissing her girlfriend, Donna slaps her daughter in a final act of violence that signals the end of their family. This confrontation shows the insane reasoning that homophobic parents use to justify hating their own children.
“43, Ayotzinapa” gave a voice to the students murdered In Iguala, Mexico to keep them silent. Only two bodies have been confirmed found. It is likely that local, state and federal government was involved in their disappearance.
Students Comilon and Miclo (Edgar Rodriguez and Jordan Holguin) share their story as images of protests and death are shown behind them. They came from the Rural Teachers College in Ayotzinapa to protest the corruption of the Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca Velázquez and his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa, who was preparing to run for mayor to replace him.
Comilon and Miclo shared their optimism and eagerness to serve, which makes the terror they feel in the hands of the Federales that much more heartbreaking.
Taunting police told the students they were courageous to take the buses and now had the opportunity to be courageous as they face their deaths.
“Don’t cry for me, I did it for my convictions,” Comilon tells his mother prayerfully while surrounded by black-clad killers. “I’m sorry that you won’t get to see me graduate or have any grandchildren. Bury me by the tree by the river with the tire swing where we spent our summers.”
“They’re taking us,” he said. “Look for us.”
“Find me, por favor, and bury me by the tree.”
Comilon does not ask for revenge, but for an end to corruption.
Mexico needs brave activists to change. Our world needs brave writers to inspire them.
SWC’s theater program has both.