The Zona Rosa Project is not your average show. Audience members are let into Wyatt Pavilion one at a time and led down a dark hallway by masked performers. They are led out onto the stage where more masked people lead them to their seats. This entrance initially confuses the audience members but looking back it seems like an attempt to involve the audience in the show.
The show tells the story of Dr. Francisco Estrada Valle who started the AVE foundation to spread awareness and acceptance for AIDS, discrimination and homophobia. It tracks the evolution of gay rights in Mexico and the struggle for acceptance in a deeply Catholic, traditional country.
The Zona Rosa Project was shown Thursday, Oct. 13 through Sunday at the Wyatt Pavilion.
Once the show starts, the masked performers start dancing on the stage. When the music changes, they start setting up the stage for the real performance. This is when it is clear that this will not be your average show.
The story starts in November 2007 on Dia de Los Muertos when the two main characters meet. It switches between modern day and the past around 1987. We learn about Valle’s story through Johnny, an old friend of his, and their past together.
Switching between the past and present caused some confusion and mystery in the beginning for people who were not familiar with Valle’s story. It revealed information in pieces rather than all at once.
In the second act, Francisco and Johnny – a character based off of UC Davis Professor John Iacovelli – meet. However, it is still not clear who they are exactly and what the nature of their relationship is. When it changes to the present, a new character is introduced; one of Johnny’s students is trying to set up a foundation for AIDS and we learn that the reason is because she has contracted HIV.
Next, we switch back to 1987 in Mexico; we meet Johnny’s boss who is a perfect stereotype of an ignorant American. Her obviously degrading and racist tone when speaking to Francisco were some of the most humorous instances throughout the play. Her character was meant to contrast and highlight the prejudice against homosexuals and people with AIDS, which is the show’s main focus.
When the plot switches to February 2008, it reveals that Francisco was killed in July 1992 and the mystery has never been solved. At this point the show focuses more on the AVE foundation and its social and political impact in Mexico. The extent to which Francisco was discriminated against because of AVE and his sexuality is finally realized. He was labeled as an enemy of the church and state.
In the next scenes, Johnny tries to uncover the mystery of Francisco’s death and to understand the meaning of their relationship. And the extent to which Francisco’s foundation has impacted Mexican society and gay rights is shown.
Johnny and Francisco’s relationship drives the plot. As Francisco gets more involved with his foundation and starts to make an impact, their relationship slowly crumbles.
Rather than acting like a regular play, the performers in The Zona Rosa Project read their lines from a script while a narrator tells the audience what the situation is and what their actions are. This gives the show a different feel and seems like a post-modern take on acting. It certainly made the performance more interesting. This makes the audience focus more on the meaning of the performers’ words and helps bring their point across more clearly.
However, without the actions the performer’s dialogue often seems overdramatic. Their voices convey emotional nuances to make their discourse believable.
When looking back to the beginning, the masked performers seem less confusing. The show starts and ends on Dia de Los Muertos so they represent the people who have died as a result of AIDS. However, their purpose in the show is still a little perplexing.
At the end of the show, they showed a clip of the real Dr. Francisco Valle. At this point the show turned from just a performance into a real story.
Overall, The Zona Rosa Project is a very thought-provoking and remarkable show. It explores the overlap of personal and political issues in the foundation of AVE. Making the show different than usual helped convey the message. It is certainly something that will be remembered and will impact everyone who sees it.
PAAYAL ZAVERI can be reached at email@example.com.