It was just before their opening night that the cast of “American Mariachi” had to close its doors. But now, almost 18 months later, the cast is back. It is a co-production with the Dallas Theater Center and the Goodman Theater. We go behind the scenes of this new production which takes place in the 1970s in Chicago.
“The music is so powerful,” says Dallas Theater Center actress Tiffany Solano. “There’s a line on the show that says ‘music is memory.'”
This is essentially the premise of the new Goodman Theater production, “American Mariachi”. After playing a tune familiar to her mother with dementia and awakening her memory, Lucha, played by Tiffany Solano, decides to do the unthinkable and create an all-female mariachi band. The ensemble includes current and former musicians from the Chicago Sones group of Mexico Ensemble, who say this fictional girl group fully captures the musical genre.
“Mariachi is a culture in its own right,” says Erendira Izguerra, who founded Chicago’s first all-female mariachi group, Mariachi Siernas. She plays Tía Carmen in “American Mariachi”.
“Mariachi is like an orchestra,” says Víctor Pichardo, musical director of the Goodman Theater and co-founder of Sones de Mexico. “We have brass, trumpets, strings and harps. It’s a small orchestra that can represent any genre of music.
The story also explores gender roles, as the characters face off against their family’s patriarchs. This is something that actress Lucy Godínez experienced while working with her father, who is also the director of the play.
“With my dad running this show… machismo is definitely happening,” says Godínez. “I’ll be like, ‘Machismo right there! We talk about it all the time, that’s it. And he says to me “no, it is not”. And I’m like, ‘You’re a Latino man. Your entire existence contributes to machismo. It’s an ongoing thing where things on the show inform the dialogues we have with our own families about the exact same things because they’re very real.
This story also sparks conversations about mental health and the role music plays in helping people heal.
“In particular, our community (we want them) to think of mental illness as something that should not be ashamed or not to be hidden,” says director Henry Godínez. “This piece makes you wonder what we call mental illness, maybe just another reality for someone else.”
Another theme is representation.
“You cannot be what you cannot see,” says Lucy Godínez. “There are so many different and amazing Spanish speaking communities in the city of Chicago. These people should be able to have world class theater on them and their stories in the languages they speak in their own homes. That they deserve this kind of theater and art in their city.
“It’s a universally human story,” agrees Solano. “I am delighted that audiences of all ethnicities come to see him because he will understand this story, the importance of family, music and tradition and see what it looks like in my house or another. Latinx house. “
“American Mariachi” is one of six productions at this year’s Chicago International Latino Theater Festival. Production runs until October 24. Visit GoodmanTheatre.org for information on “American Mariachi” tickets.
Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @ angelidowu3
Angel Idowu is the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent JCS Fund.