Oaxaca, Mexico, March 28 - April 5, 1992



From “The Memoirs, Volume Two” –



            A short time after I came back to Oaxaca, Sergio Santamaría, the theater director and becoming-good friend, had been around saying he was going to do a play with his Teatro Vivo de Oaxaca, of which Mary Jane was member of the board of directors, and they were going to do it in the very nice little theater, Sala Juárez, in the fine arts campus of the Universitario Autónimo Benito Juárez de Oaxaca, UABJO, a few blocks away, and did I want to do the set?

            “You bet!” I said.


            The play was called “Agua Clara,” a sort of modern, drawing-room comedy set in a middle class Mexico City apartment, well, the bedroom.  I didn’t think it was at all my cup of tea, but I had confidence in Sergio and would do anything he asked.  My friend, Valerie Nadeau, who had been in the scene design class I had given here last year, was brought in to do the costumes.  I was looking forward to it.

            I did a wonderful pink bedroom (gee, where does that sound familiar?), all cartoony and very middle-class, Mexico City, awful, of course.  It was fun and everybody liked it a lot.  I also did the poster which showed a toilet with one of those pink, fuzzy toilet seats and tank lid-covers, with a “happy-face” on the seat and the smile turned upside down.  It was a classic.



            The play was something else!

The scene opens on this sort of young, snooty, middle-class couple, expecting guests to a nice sit-down dinner they were having, and getting dressed in their bedroom and looking forward to a nice evening.  Well, the husband goes briefly into the adjoining bathroom and comes out a few minutes later.  Then the wife goes into the bathroom and suddenly there is a loud scream.  She comes back out, horrified.  Well, seems the husband took a dump in the bathroom and didn’t flush the toilet.  Well, it seems this has occurred just as the building has coincidentally run out of water, a common enough occurrences in Mexico, and would bring roars of laughter from the public.

            As the play progresses, various neighbors from the apartment complex come in, trying to help, or bringing some water, or just to gawk.  We learn, of course, that this particular couple has long been the stuck-up, insulting and superior neighbors in the building, and now the others are very much enjoying their utter humiliation!

            It was a silly play but Sergio directed it with fervor and the cast gave it their all.  A particularly good young actress played the wife, and we would become good friends for years.  The audience somehow loved it and it got held over for a long run




            It was the very ending of the play which really got ‘em, however, and incidentally proved the challenge for Valerie and me.  Things get SO ridiculous by the end, a neighbor finally goes in and gets the shit out of the toilet and dumps in on the couple's heads!  Wow!

            So, like, how do you make the shit?  It had to be gooey and well, brown, and more to the point, had to be something which could be poured all over the nice costumes of Valerie’s each night and not stain them and make a big problem for the following night’s performance.  I had no idea.

            That’s when I remembered how Janet, the prop woman from Ready Set, had been so clever and such a big help devising the red, sticky blood for my walk-in tableau, “Crime of Passion” some years earlier in San Francisco, with her concoction of corn starch and such.  Russell was in San Francisco and I called him up.

            “They dump shit on the actors?” he exclaimed, but he said yes, he’d go see Janet.

            So, that’s when Janet came up with her brilliant solution to the artificial shit problem of Bill Wolf down in Mexico, which just about everybody heard about and there were lots of comments, good-natured, of course.

            She came up with getting dry oatmeal cereal and “browning” it on a hot dry skillet on the stove until it was almost burnt to a dark brown and then mixing it with water to the consistency desired.  It would be goopy, from the water, and brown, from the burning, but would not stain the costumes because there would be no pigment, no paint or dyes.

            Now, this is just the sort of thing at which the Mano Mágica’s household staff excel.  We had Irene dry frying and burning oatmeal for days.



Below, here I am with the kitchen staff planning how to cook the "popo."  That's Irene in the center next to me.




            “You’re cooking WHAT in my kitchen!” exclaimed Mary Jane.  I calmed her down, it’s for art, I said.

            “Well, just don’t tell anybody!” she finished.


            Well, “Aqua Clara” had a good run and finally closed and it was an easy strike and then a closing night party at Sergio’s house which I think must have gone on all night, as the tamales didn’t show up until one thirty!  Valerie and I bailed out at not too an unreasonable hour, leaving Sergio talking about his next production, a big organic type of thing in Teotitlán (!).  I told him I’d do the sets.




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