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[whitespace] Camera Obscuring

Two filmmakers try to save Mexican culture from capitalism

By Heather Zimmerman

A FEW YEARS AGO, I worked in a toy store that was popular with doll collectors, and one of the doll manufacturers' catalogs we used for special orders offered a line of dolls that were all little barefoot, dewy-eyed darlings dressed in romantically ragged international costumes. Recently, to my surprise, I saw these same dolls in a Santa Monica toy store--apparently there's still a market for $300 dolls draped in serapes and straw hats and called names like Pepe. Aldo and Patrick, the two college filmmakers in Aldo Velasco's and Patrick Scott's play The True History of Coca-Cola in Mexico, don't collect these dolls, but they might as well for all the actual help they give the locals during the filming of a documentary in Mexico. Teatro Visión offers an entertaining production of Velasco's and Scott's comedy about two self-proclaimed do-gooders who end up doing good only for themselves.

Seattle college students Aldo and Patrick (Dario Loza and Sam Means) head to Mexico to film a documentary about the negative influence of American capitalism on the country--and thereby help the Mexican people. The pair has studied up on the histories of Mexico and of Coca-Cola, the product they plan to use as the symbol of American capitalism's invasion of Mexico and its undermining of the culture. But the idea of "culture," as imposed by Patrick and Aldo, is oppressive: in the name of preserving Mexican culture, the pair justifies everything from inviting themselves to live with an impoverished Mexican family to invading a sacred rite just to capture it on film. Not that the two intentionally cause harm--they're clueless--and that, Velasco and Scott suggest, is part of the larger problem. As vocal as Aldo and Patrick are about their love of Mexican culture, they never look beyond their own preconceived ideas about Mexico.

The play offers some serious implications about the parasitic elements of the "American way," but Velasco and Scott have created pure farce, perhaps suggesting that when everything is for sale, it's hard to take much of anything seriously--all other meaning gets lost. Accordingly, director Jesus A. Reyes keeps the comedy broad and the performances broader. In addition to playing Aldo and Pat, Loza and Means, with the help of their "crew" (Xochitl Lopez and Teresa Guardado), portray all the characters, some of which are startlingly believable given the play's farcical nature, from brash American tourists to a little boy selling souvenirs at Chichen Itza. However, the least credible characters are often Aldo and Pat, perhaps because they are the biggest caricatures of all. For instance, Aldo and Pat's hypocritical scorn for their Mexican cameraman would have had more power if it had been less obvious and more insinuating--it's already clear from the beginning that these two are more like the "ugly Americans" they mock than they can ever comprehend.

More than anything, Velasco and Scott offer an interesting exploration of how capitalism has defined U.S. culture and the American people--how we've become a culture of appropriated cultures, and at that, one that we're still struggling to define, in part perhaps because of a failure to understand that culture is alive and intangible, and not a static thing that can be bought and displayed on a shelf.

The True History of Coca-Cola in Mexico plays at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose; Thursday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm through Mar 12. Tickets are $10-$17. For more information, call 800.MHC.VIVA.

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From the March 9-15, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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