The Miracle Theatre Group produces work that celebrates Latino culture, including bilingual and Spanish language productions, while the young Hand2Mouth Theatre has a history of collaboration with international theater companies. The two Portland companies are a natural match for a co-production with Mexico City's La Comedia Humana: Dos Pueblos features ensemble members from Hand2Mouth and La Comedia Humana, direction from Hand2Mouth's Jonathan Walters and La Comedia Humana's Rubén Ortiz, and dramaturgy from the Miracle's Olga Sanchez, in a frank, bilingual exploration of how the cultures of the US and Mexico view and shape one another. It's an ambitious collaboration, a welcome attempt to broaden both the scope of and audience for local theater.
Dos Pueblos is a shuffled series of snapshots of Mexican and US cultures. A historical timeline threads through the show, connecting relations today to the countries' shared history. We're treated to familiar tropes about the relationship between the US and Mexico: Mexicans illegally crossing the border, college kids from the US getting shitfaced in Acapulco. Hand2Mouth's highly sexualized pop sensibility is on display here, hearkening back to last year's Repeat After Me, but this show relies more heavily on the less literal conventions of movement, as well as more direct (some might say more manipulative) appeals for audience participation. The audience is asked to join in several rituals, from reading aloud from Spanish and English texts to sharing toasts for the dead.
A large part of my dissatisfaction with Dos Pueblos stemmed from the fact that I literally didn't understand all of it. This bilingual show really requires a bilingual audience: with only one language, you only get half of the story. While this may make for a neat metaphor for US/Mexico relations, it also makes for a frustrating theater experience for the monolingual.
I would be remiss in not noting, though, that the show seemed to resonate with Spanish-speaking audience members, who chuckled at the Mexican company's jokes, answered questions in Spanish, and gave the show a warm ovation—all of which made me yearn even more to know just what I was missing.