BWW Review: Forward Flux's Double Feature, Pt. 1: LAS MARIPOSAS Y LOS MUERTOS Calls Out Cultural Appropriation in Modern Music
Forward Flux's hosts another double feature, currently performing at West of Lenin. "Las Mariposas Y Los Muertos" is one big middle finger to Pitchfork and Vampire Weekend. Rolled into a story of three jaded musicians striving for more authenticity in the cultural milieu, here lies a call to arms concerning cultural appropriate and stereotyping in modern music. One band's dance with stardom forces the three to negotiate racial tension, sibling rivalries, and sacrificing authenticity for fame. This is a play that manages to have it both ways: critiquing and understanding millennial bands' concerns.
Molly (Grace Cormack), Elena (Sophie Franco), and Celestina (Jordi Montes) decide that they've had it with modern music and start a band of their own. They specifically disparage "Ivy League" bands that cavalierly used the word "horchata" in a song, that same band dedicating an entire song to oxford commas. The band, Las Mariposas, perform songs live intermittently throughout the play, with Elena as lead guitar and vocals, Molly on bass, and Celestina on drums.
The trouble becomes when Molly pressures the band to center around Elena and Celestina's culture (or, at least, Molly's concept of their culture). But Molly gets it, because she studied abroad in Spain and she went to Mexico on a mission trip with her church (can you sense the sarcasm?).
Elena and Celestina have demons on their own, neither of whom seem to have dedicated time to grieve their mother's death. Their band practices in their grandmother's basement. Nana speaks Spanish exclusively, and disparages her granddaughters for not reciprocating. Nana and Molly disparaging her not knowing Spanish pulls Elena in two different directions.
The show is surprisingly dramatic, but what seemed like Elena being too sensitive (her words) were actually good points--that the only white member of the band insisted that they have a Spanish name, that they sing in spanglish, that they put on day of the dead face paint, and that they have an "ironic" pop song about dancing (specifically, dancing a tango) in sombreros with "el diablo." Molly defends these choices, pointing out other bands that have Spanish band names (but the bands she points out--Yo La Tengo and Los Campesinos--are white bands), and how she just wanted Elena and Celestina to "embrace their culture."
Benjamin Benne perfectly captures the tone of the modern milieu, complete with the well-intentionEd White girl who is too focused on pushing her band-mates' "culture" in a really reductionist way. Molly is never really thinking about the way it may impact Elena and Celestina. Additional tension comes from Pitchfork reviews of the band that the members thrice recite. The first recitation spring-boards Elena's bitter feelings when a white, male reviewer calls her "exotic". Molly adds fuel to the fire when, each time Elena brings it up, Elena defends the Pitchfork reviewer, saying "he said that your voice sounded exotic".
With the exception of Nana's love and comedy, this is a drama marathon. The climax does not pack as much of a punch without a slow progression of conflict. This show ends up suffering from turning the drama volume up to maximum out of the gate, where it remains until the conclusion.
The star of this show is Anabel V. Hovig's Nana. She's easily the funniest, though Sophie Franco's hesitant and bitter performance of Cel's song is brilliant. Franco's voice is fervent and melodic, and her portrayal of Elena beautifully captured that feeling of being so passionate about something and yet so confused about what to do. As Elena's kid sister, Jordi Montes' Cel is scrappy and sincere. Grace Cormack's Molly was all-too-familiar, and tried so hard to do the right thing (only to make it worse).
"Las Mariposas Y Los Muertos" seems to do what no other play has done, which is to both make fun of the tone and over-sensitivity of millenials without sweeping the truth to their concerns under the rug. It's a fine balance that few plays have accomplished as successfully. It's comedy with an activist edge, and it's very "now". For making me laugh and making me think, I give "Las Mariposas Y Los Muertos" an "into-it" B+. You'll never listen to Vampire Weekend the same way again.
"Las Mariposas Y Los Muertos" performs at West of Lenin through October 7, 2017. For tickets and information, visit them online at www.forwardflux.com.