Matthew Paul Olmos sometimes gets a little embarrassed when he hears the words he’s written. In the soft-spoken playwright's unconventional script, women play male characters.
And not just any male characters: Mexican drug cartel members. The dialogue is a little rough.
The play, so go the ghosts of méxico, part two, looks at the power shifts within two warring drug cartels, and it's performed by an all-female cast through drama, song and dance.
“It’s a little embarrassing to be in a group with all women and hear them say the things I’ve written,” he says.
The actresses, though? They don’t even blink. Women don’t often get the chance to play tough characters the way male actors do.
Olmos is presenting his second play in a trilogy about Mexican drug cartels. Undermain Theatre produced the first play, so go the ghosts of mexico part one: a brave woman in mexico, last fall. The theater has committed to producing all three.
Each play tells a different story within that world. The first was a true story about Marisol Valles Garcia, a 20-year-old woman who volunteered as police chief for the tiny Mexican border town Práxedis Gilberto Guerrero. The job had an opening because drug lords had beheaded the previous police chief.
The second play tells the story from the cartel side. Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso, who played Olmos’ iteration of Garcia, returns as a drug lord. Olmos says he was surprised she could tackle the cartel so righteously.
“She’s such a kind person, I didn’t know she could be such a badass," he says.
The decision to cast women as men is a purposeful commentary on machismo, Olmos says. Behavior often dismissed as typical from a man seems jarring and ridiculous coming from a woman.
Olmos wanted to get into the head of the cartel and examine the vile behavior that goes on.
“There is a doll-like aspect to cartel members, almost like they are a shell of a person," he says. "I think you have to be to do what they do.”
He also investigated how the cartel recruits young men.
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“They paint this romantic picture, and it becomes very attractive to a person with no other options," he says. "I’ve found that they recruit in America too.”
Olmos says it’s been interesting to watch the debates about immigration and Mexico since the election. The drug trade is a story he understands well, but it’s also a story he knows isn’t confined to Mexico. It’s a trade supported by America and its demand for drugs.
“I think a lot of people think bad people from Mexico bring drugs to this country, and if we can just keep them out it will solve the problem,” he says, but it’s not that simple. “Proximity to Mexicans is not the problem.”
So Go the Ghosts of Mexico, Part 2, Undermain Theatre, 3200 Main St., through Oct. 1, $20 and up, undermain.org.