As the Mexican city right across the border from El Paso, Texas, Juárez has achieved notoriety as a place to be revered — and feared.
In 2008, it was deemed “the city of the future” by The Financial Times’ Foreign Direct Investment Magazine. Just a year later, it was given the title of “Murder Capital of the World” by another U.K. publication, The Guardian.
It’s also the subject of a production called “Juárez: A Documentary Mythology,” created by Theater Mitu and onstage at Z Space in San Francisco this week.
Rubén Polendo, founder of New York City’s cutting-edge Theater Mitu, spent the first 18 years of his life in Juárez before coming to the United States for college. In the process of fulfilling his company’s mission to create “whole theater that is rigorously visual, aural, emotional, intellectual and spiritual all in the same moment,” Polendo says the production explores the many contradictory facets of his hometown.
“A lot of our work deals with theatricalizing belief systems, spiritual questions and mythology,” says Polendo. “I approached my company with the idea of mapping out the two cities — Juárez and El Paso — and looking at both what led to the headlines and what’s happening at the house next door. We realized that the map we were interested in creating is very much a living creature that is made up of people’s belief systems of faith, questions of identity and spiritual crises.”
In multiple visits to Juárez, Theater Mitu company members conducted more than 200 hours of interviews with citizens including politicians, artists, activists, journalists and professors.
After they spoke with a Mexican woman who lived in the U.S., and a Mexican gay activist in Juárez who was receiving no support from Mexican gay activists, Juárez’s multifaceted, dynamic reality came home to them.
During one interview, Polendo’s father told him, “In many ways, the story of Juárez is the story of any city that’s been abused by progress.”
At that moment, Theater Mitu members realized they had become engaged in a conversation that encompasses trade deals, gender, economics, politics and change — both positive and negative.
Once Polendo saw the parallels between Juárez and San Francisco as two cities “abused by progress,” he was determined to bring Juárez here.
One thing is clear: Theater Mitu is not presenting a black-and-white portrait of a complex living entity.
“When you hear a complicated story, there’s a desire to simplify it and make it a metaphor for good vs. evil or something of the sort,” says Polendo. “We hope with this theater piece to move closer to looking at one of those really rich complex Greek mythologies that is riddled with all the goods, bads and gray areas of humanity.”
IF YOU GO: Juárez: A Documentary Mythology
Where: Z Space, 450 Florida St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 and 8
p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (415) 626-0453, ext. 104 or