Moral­ity with a twist

Cel­e­brat­ing the work of writer Tony Mares

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

Ernesto An­to­nio Mares, bet­ter known as Tony, grew up in Al­bu­querque’s Old Town in the 1940s and ’50s. The fu­ture writer played in the Río Grande and learned about na­ture from his fa­ther. He got an ed­u­ca­tion in other re­al­i­ties of life in the city, where he came into con­tact with the denizens of the Old Town plaza, which in­cluded busi­ness own­ers, drifters, and a cadre of re­tired pros­ti­tutes, for whom young Tony de­vel­oped a deep re­spect. He wrote a one-act play, Lola’s Last Dance, about the dy­ing days of one such woman, who is vis­ited by peo­ple from her past in the form of masked, bal­letic dolls that ap­pear to her in a reverie. Teatro Paraguas presents Lola’s

Last Dance on three nights at its stu­dio space in Santa Fe be­gin­ning Thurs­day, Jan. 19, and for an­other three per­for­mances at the Na­tional His­panic Cul­tural Cen­ter in Al­bu­querque be­gin­ning Jan. 27, as part of Río del Co­razón: The Magic of Tony Mares, a trib­ute to the writer, who died in 2015 at age seventy-six. Af­ter Lola’s Last Dance, which runs ap­prox­i­mately 30 min­utes, the ac­tors per­form sev­eral of Mares’ po­ems se­lected from his books, which in­clude The Uni­corn Poem & Flow­ers and Songs of Sor­row; With the Eyes of a Rap­tor; and As­ton­ish­ing Light: Con­ver­sa­tions I Never Had With Pa­tro­ciño Barela. Lola’s Last Dance is codi­rected by Paola Mar­tini and Ar­gos MacCal­lum, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Teatro Paraguas.

Mares, who pub­lished un­der the name E.A. Mares, taught at North Texas State Univer­sity, the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico, and else­where, and was ded­i­cated to so­cial jus­tice causes, in­clud­ing civil rights and protests against the Viet­nam War. He worked con­struc­tion to put him­self through col­lege, which is where he found his love for po­etry. He later de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in the Span­ish Civil War, about which he wrote his doc­toral dis­ser­ta­tion. Lola’s Last Dance can be in­ter­preted as a story about the end of the pro­tag­o­nist’s life, MacCal­lum told Pasatiempo, but it can also be per­formed as a “moral­ity play with a twist, in that here she is, Lola the pros­ti­tute, who so­ci­ety sup­pos­edly looks down upon, but she’s ac­tu­ally the glue that holds so­ci­ety to­gether. In the play, every­one re­volves around her and her me­mories of them. She’s a pos­i­tive force in her com­mu­nity — full of life.”

It is a play an­chored in New Mex­ico re­gional iden­tity. Many of the dolls that visit Lola are prom­i­nent men from the com­mu­nity, all of whom in­sist they did ev­ery­thing they could for the “Mex­i­cans” — a term that, each time it is used, is quickly cor­rected by an off­stage voice shout­ing, “Span­ish!” The stage di­rec­tions in­di­cate that this is a comic de­vice, to be used with some level of irony. Mares wrote the play in the late 1970s, on the heels of the Chi­cano civil-rights move­ment, which ad­vo­cated for Mex­i­canAmer­i­can self-de­ter­mi­na­tion yet cre­ated dis­cord for some na­tive New Mex­i­cans, many of whom pre­ferred to iden­tify with their Castil­ian Span­ish her­itage. The is­sues con­tinue to res­onate to­day as marginal­ized groups, of­ten peo­ple of color, have re­vived self-de­ter­mi­na­tion and civil-rights move­ments in the face of mil­i­ta­rized po­lice forces across the United States and the ever-grow­ing gap be­tween rich and poor. The con­tem­po­rary con­ver­sa­tion re­volves in large part around ter­mi­nol­ogy and how dif­fer­ent groups choose to speak about them­selves, and fo­cuses on in­clu­sion in — rather than as­sim­i­la­tion to — Amer­i­can cul­ture. Sex work­ers, like Lola, have also or­ga­nized to com­bat sex traf­fick­ing, vi­o­lence on the job, and mis­con­cep­tions about women who choose this life­style.

Though the play is quite brief, its lan­guage is densely lay­ered with sym­bol­ism and metaphor. The dolls are fash­ioned as pup­pets, and the first one to speak to Lola is a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man, Mr. Baronetti, whose name sounds like a cross be­tween “baron” and “mar­i­onette.” MacCal­lum said that Mares was try­ing to con­vey that the im­po­si­tion of so­cial roles, class di­vi­sions, and ideas of sta­tus keep us trapped in false no­tions of who we are and who we are sup­posed to be. “It’s an ex­cep­tional per­son, like Lola, who can be free with­out all the con­di­tions and pa­ram­e­ters of mod­ern life.” Flor­into, a rag-and-bone man and Lola’s true love, is the only doll who does not wear a mask. “He says in the play that his busi­ness in life is never to have a busi­ness. Lola wants to be free to dance when­ever she feels it. She says ev­ery­thing dances. The wind dances through the trees. The air dances. The light dances in peo­ple’s eyes when they are think­ing of mak­ing love.”

Lola’s danc­ing is both lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive, some­times used as a eu­phemism for sex and some­times for the breath of life. She does not judge the men who pay for her ser­vices, not even Fa­ther Hoehner, whom Lola and the other pros­ti­tutes used to call “Fa­ther Horny.” Though she teased him, she did not be­lieve he was hurt­ing any­one by hir­ing her, de­spite his shame over his lust. Lola ac­cepts dy­ing but does not want to be lonely or cold. That sense of over­whelm­ing iso­la­tion and be­ing awash in mem­ory is a point of view Mares ex­plored of­ten in his po­etry dur­ing the fi­nal two decades of his life, fol­low­ing the death of his daugh­ter at age twenty af­ter a pro­longed ill­ness.

In “There Are Four Words, Miguel,” from With the Eyes of a Rap­tor, Mares re­sponds to a poem, “He Came With Three Wounds,” by Miguel Hernán­dez, whose words he trans­lates from Span­ish to English. Her­nan­dez claims there are three wounds that hu­man be­ings must en­dure: the wound of life, the wound of love, and the wound of death. Mares adds the wound of si­lence — the si­lence birds leave in their wake, the si­lence of tree-house planks, and the si­lence where once there was mu­sic. Si­lence, in this case, is ab­sence.

“One by one the days slip into his­tory,/and where there was a voice/there are only doc­u­ments, ev­i­dence/ that my daugh­ter once walked this land./Now she leaves foot­prints only in my mem­ory,” he writes. “Tsin Tsun,” also from With the Eyes of a Rap­tor, is ded­i­cated to his daugh­ter. In it, he com­pares the fleet­ing time he had with her to the flight of a hum­ming­bird. Here again, there is ab­sence. “I re­mem­ber the ag­i­tated air,” he writes.

The trib­ute to Mares in Santa Fe falls very close to the an­niver­sary of his death on Jan. 30 — and to that of Galit Mares, who died on Feb. 25, 1994.

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