UNITED STATES—The apple red Subaru wagon with Nevada plates sure expanded my world—there was the court circus, dunning tenants, showing rooms and it made possible taking part in “Maxtla,” a stage play of a doomed prehispanic King, pre-Cortez, pre-Spanish—even though it was presented in Spanish by the Bohemia Theater Group. To a great extend the group WAS Marta Esther Marin, a poetic passionate feisty woman, mother, director and force to be reckoned with.
We kept rehearsing through the spring of 1990 in the Hall of the Masonic Lodge, above where the Azteca book store had been. Once we even rehearsed with 10 or 12 people packed in the small kitchen of the Lodge which had been painted and was swimming in paint fumes. There was Josefina, “La Brasilera,” Omar Campuzano, the bohemio and singer who suffered the bohemio’s fate that to work at not working and insist on art is the hardest job of all.
As we approached showtime in the first week of July, I got to go to Echo Park and give money to Pastel and Judith Mireles, who had an Aztec dance troup which would be a major part of the play’s spectacle; and they were doing the wardrobe. Such an adventure, going for the first time to Echo Park in the car, what a school for struggle and Los Angeles is the school for struggle par excellence; it takes you daily to places so unnaturally far away, taking your life in your hands, and then causes us into outgrow that sense of scale imposed by European-plan cities and small towns.
My friends were going to Prague, New York and Berlin, I was going to Echo Park and there was the heat, the glare, and then that sluggish Friday-afternoon traffic caused by the collective yearning of commuters who couldn’t wait to get home and do nothing.
Pastel and Judith, who lived at a house up the hill on LeMoyne, made beautiful clothes with feathers and beads. Pastel’s name means cake in Spanish and he got that nickname in Mexico City in Lecumberri Prison where rebel students and rebel rebels and rebel artists like David Alfaro Siqueiros (Stalinist and muralist) may have eaten one of Pastel’s cakes when they got shipped their during the dark days of Diaz Ordaz’ presidency and the Olympic Games massacre of protesters.
In the final weeks, we ended up rehearsing on the stage itself in Barnsdall Park, across from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock house.
And finally the big night—after months of evening rehearsals, after the final fitting with Judith and Pastel Mireles, the open stage was full of the haunting sound of conch shells and the fragrance of copal incense and the tune of the Aztec flute that evoked the somberness, treachery and beauty of the pre-Hispanic world.
I was proud of my part, Sacrificial Priest. Marta Esther Marin had me work it up, creating movements that created suspense, passing my priestly hands and obsidian dagger slowly over the body of the sacrificial victim. I was a terrifying figure, red grease paint on one side, black on the other. The body lay there before plunging the dagger into Claudia (Marta Esther’s daughter) and performing the sacrifice. Reaching down into the maiden’s chest cavity and even tugging a bit to free the rubber heart from its imagined sinews. (The only casualty was the obsidian dagger: the handle broke from the blade and the demise of this prop was treated as the loss of a true artifact: it’s two pieces were wrapped in a scented handkerchief by its proud owner.)
The audience was spellbound. It was a proud Saturday night conditioned by a summer night’s cool warmth—Carey Fosse, my friend as well as musician and humorist shared it. He was my first film director back at USC, so it was entirely appropriate he be there to share the night. It was both an end and a beginning.
The week after Josefina said she was through after that with Bohemia.
Grady Miller is a humorist. His zany humor appear in “Late Bloomer,” available on Amazon.