Staging the Revolution

"Revolution is love." This comment, made by a poet in La Muse Venale's playLa Revolución, written and directed by M. Stefan Strozier, appears to be the work's metaphorical premise. Rather than being an exploration of this theme, however, the play, depicting major events of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, remains deeply embedded in the realm of historical reenactment. The play's creator claims that much of the dialogue is culled from what the real-life figures on stage actually spoke or wrote into the historical record. Beyond being an impressive collection of historical text and songs, the piece delivers little else.

The biggest problem with the play is its lack of focus. There are many figures depicted who seem to be vying for the position of central character, and it is never clear with which character we are meant to sympathize most. Because there is no single story arc to latch on to, it can be difficult to follow the narrative. Scenes appear to jump around significantly in time and place but there are no clear indicators as to where or when any particular sequence occurs. In fact, without the use of blackouts (which are used excessively throughout) the progression of time and the change of location might be virtually indistinguishable.

In addition, it is hard to isolate which character is which, although there is only minor doubling of roles. The characters seem to lack definition. The actors are portraying famous historical figures and it would appear that the playwright is relying on audience members' outside knowledge of these people and their contributions to history in order to flesh out their identities. No character seems fully human on stage; rather, they all operate as stand-ins for some aspect of a revolutionary ideal. This concept is compelling, but it prevents any real identification with the figures presented. There is nothing to draw the audience in on an emotional level. The individuals on stage often declaim to the audience but rarely make significant interpersonal connections with their fellow actors on stage. This creates a disjointed quality to the performance.

The fragmentation is accentuated by having many important events occur offstage as well as by the inclusion of moments in which the performers break the fourth wall purposefully. Towards the play's end, in order to speed through remaining historical narration, there are long, descriptive passages telling what is occurring as opposed to showing it. Some of these speeches are in English and some in Spanish, which, if you are unfamiliar with either language, can be alienating. The text is also spoken over extensive wartime sound effects, making it even more difficult to hear and understand. In general, the mixing of languages seems arbitrary; only the word “revolución” is consistently spoken in Spanish throughout. Most of the actors use accents, but the accents are inconsistent and often make what they are saying hard to understand.

The one element that plays nicely in La Revolución is the use of music and historically accurate songs. The musical numbers are, for the most part, well-performed, and add interest to an at-times dull stage scene. It is hard not to wish that the songs were better integrated into the piece, however. They are often sung by a singer who does not participate in the dramatic action of the scene and can appear to occur randomly as opposed to being logical outgrowths of the scenes in which they are embedded. This creates a kind of alienation effect, but it is hard to know if this was the director's intent or an accidental happenstance.

All in all, this play comes across as an important first step toward creating a theater work based on this material. The piece, at this juncture, is still quite rough, but, with some polishing, it could develop into an important historical piece. Like all revolutions, it seems, it just may take time to derive the desired outcome.

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