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Revolutionary play combines traditional and modern

‘13 Days/13 Días’ cleverly contrasts the myriad of voices in the Chiapan uprising

By Leigh E. Rich

The play “13 Days/13 Días: The Zapatista Uprising in Chiapas” uses the theater as a medium to remind the developed world (as we recline comfortably between our computers and FAX machines) that “to change the world, or even shake it up a bit, takes a lot of hard work.”

This fresh and thought-provoking collaboration of the Borderlands Theater, Pima Community College and the San Francisco Mime Troupe recounts the events surrounding the peasant/indigenous people’s revolt in the Chiapan Highlands of Mexico during the first 13 days of 1994.

Banded together as the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (whose acronym in Spanish is EZLN), these revolutionaries were provoked by and laid down their lives against the “ruler vs. ruled” and “haves vs. have-nots” status quo that has interminably left them (and so many others) with the proverbial and all-too-real short end of the stick. The Zapatistas successfully gained the world’s attention as they demanded sovereignty, equality, access to their land and, most importantly, an end to the exploitative relationships inherent in the system.

Written by SFMT playwright Joan Holden, Pueblo Por La Paz member Paula Leora, UA anthropology assistant professor Daniel Nugent and playwright/choreographer Eva Tessler, “13 Days/13 Días” presents a well-informed look at the complex events in Mexico in 1994 and the ongoing issues surrounding capitalism and development in our increasingly global world.

Combining the playwrights’ knowledgeable backgrounds with excerpts from translated EZLN texts, the play cleverly contrasts the myriad of voices in the Chiapan uprising. Every angle and vested interest—including the Zapatistas, the Mexican army, the Mexican government under Carlos Salinas, American businessmen and the World Bank—is represented.

It is a bold and artistic statement about the clash of the “traditional” and the “modern.” On stage, the playwrights animate this discord by juxtaposing 1914 Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata with Carlos Salinas, Mexican president from 1988 to 1994. Using both fictional and historical, as well as living and deceased, characters, “13 Days/13 Días” presents complex issues such as the legitimacy of power and the culture of poverty.

One particularly telling scene between a colonel of the Mexican army and his educated Americanized (and illegitimate) daughter succeeds in depicting the tensions between generations and between worlds. In an age of world economies and international trade agreements (like NAFTA), subsistence farmers struggle to survive alongside international corporations which manipulate world markets through computers and electronic money.

The creative efforts behind “13 Days/13 Días” enable the audience to view the action as both an insider and an outsider. The live Latin American music of Bwiya-Toli reinforces the Chiapan atmosphere on stage, while the use of projected images on screens above the actors, courtesy of MM & M Multimedia Team, resembles CNN coverage in a melange of channel-surfing. As one character advises, it is much easier to “keep it virtual—save yourself the grief.”

The collaboration of artists, activists, teachers and students, “13 Days/13 Días” is a work still in development (its official premiere is Oct. 31, 1996, at the PCC Center for the Arts). And while at times it attempts to tackle so much artistically that it is too big to fit the stage, it is a profound reflection on the current events in our chaotic world.

Negotiations between the Mexican government and the EZLN still continue, and the Zapatistas’ solidarity and strength persists. They even have a home page, thus proving that “the whole world is watching.”

Rich, L. E. (1996, April 19). Revolutionary play combines traditional and modern. Arizona Daily Wildcat.

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