An Enemy of the Pueblo
Reviewed by Lara J. Altunian
Casa 0101 Theater, Main Stage
Through November 12
Based on Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 drama An Enemy of the People, playwright Josefina López’s latest play incorporates multiple hard-hitting themes to tell a familiar story with a new voice. Her adaptation resonates cross-culturally while remaining traditionally Latino.
López’s present-day version of Ibsen’s classic transports the viewer to the small, almost ghost-like Mexican village of Milagros (Miracles) near the U.S. border. Magdalena Del Rio (Zilah Mendoza) is the town’s “curandera” (healer) and the closest thing the people have to a doctor or therapist. Her psychic powers allow her to be of service to her fellow citizens, who trust her, and to God, who has blessed her with her gifts.
The play opens following the recent loss of her husband, Eugenio (Javier Ronceros) at the hands of “El Sapo” (The Toad), the local leader of a drug cartel (Paul Renteria). Using her magic, Magdalena mysteriously kills El Sapo, and curses his soul so it must remain on Earth.
Magdalena has a prophetic dream: The local healing springs, which had served as a tourist attraction and Milagros’ main source of income before the cartel took hold, have been chemically poisoned and will take 100 years to return to their natural state. She announces this to her family, including her brother, Pedro (Arturo Aranda, Jr.), the town’s mayor and an investor in the land. He is quick to dismiss her warning, and tries various ways to prevent her from alerting the town’s other residents. He has his reasons: If word gets out that the water is contaminated, it will threaten the prosperity everyone had been hoping for now that the cartel is gone. And there is a more sinister reason later revealed to the audience.
As playwright, López vividly conveys the machismo Pedro uses against his own sister when faced with the undesirable truth. Mendoza is convincing as a woman who is needed by her people, yet rejected by them for possessing the same magic she’s used in the past to try and save them. Her desire to do what she believes is right, even when violating a traditional moral code, gives her a human quality that adds depth and complexity to the play, and keeps its perspective from being black-and-white.
Shrouded in mysticism, and drawing parallels between violation of the land and the violation of women, An Enemy of the Pueblo is an introspective look at unfortunate and broad-reaching cultural norms present both inside and outside the Latino community. Corky Dominguez’ s direction strikes an intimate note that is elevated by technical elements: a realistic “outdoor” set (Marcos De Leon), lighting (Kevin Eduardo Vasquez) and the projection of rain and other special effects (Sohail e. Najafi) that bring the story to life. Actor and musician J.D. Mata’s transitional guitar playing and singing seamlessly moves the story along through its intriguing moments of magical realism.
Casa 0101 Theater, 2102 E. 1st St., Boyle Heights; Fri./Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; through Nov. 12. (323) 263-7684 or https://casa0101.secure.force.com/ticket. Running time: 100 minutes with one 10-minute intermission.