Every year, the University of Edinburgh’s Hispanic Department gives students the chance to experience the rich Hispanic culture first hand, by means of putting on a performance. This year, what was offered was a cultural explosion in the guise of the play Hotel Juárez, set within the Mexican city where society is plagued with conflicts.
Situated in Juárez along the Mexican/US border, the play focuses on the young and vivacious Angela, played by Charlette Prudent, in search of her missing sister.
Hotel Juárez successfully introduces comedy into the normality of life. Upon entering the hotel, Angela meets the sarcastic Hotel Manager [Emily Drummond] welcoming her, while assuming that she is a prostitute as if it were a normal occurrence. Similar to the courting scenes in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Hotel Juárez follows the identical line of comedy with Angela being hilariously seduced by stripper Ramses [Matthew Banks] and hit on by the criminal El Johnny [Wang Lihe].
Despite such a successful light-hearted tone, the play perfectly balances such a tone with the drama of the tragic plot. The setting is that of a city plagued by crimes, including the abuse and exploitation of 15-year-old Rosalba [Tessa Duncan] by the Commander [Ruth Brown] and El Johnny. However, this is not simply a tragi-comedy but a play that touches on the almost-absurdist style of José Sanchis Sinisterra: an example of this being the element of the supernatural introduced when Angela awakes towards the play’s close to find herself reunited with her sister’s ghost, Rosalba. The intensity of this scene is heightened by Duncan’s character flying off to heaven after pleading for an end to the bloodshed.
All of these melodramatic affairs build to a climax where Angela and Ramses are confronted at gunpoint by the Commander and El Johnny. Although an amateur performance, the gun fight in the final scene is evidence of the undeniable passion of these actors, who sold their characters with such enthusiasm and left the audience gripped in suspense.
Hotel Juárez’s exciting plot brings to light some of the brutalities that occur within Juárez – one of the most dangerous cities today – and allows us to gain insight into a conflict that is still active. The performance is a perfect example of how theatre has been used, and will continue to be used, to convey many forms of life.
Photo credit: Sergio Mangas