Mexican history comes to life at Italian Market butcher
A Philadelphia writer and actor will perform a one-man play about the last emperor of Mexico, in a Mexican butcher shop.
It's a continuation of a previous play in the same butcher shop last year, about the Mexican-American War of 1846, which proved to be good for business.
Chris Davis performed all the parts of that play in Los Amigos Meat Market, on 9th Street in the Italian Market, using the meat case and the soda cooler as props. At a brisk 15 minutes, it was a scrappy, goofy production that ended with fresh tamales for everyone.
"My business went better," said owner Raul Aguilar. "People talk on Yelp, all the websites and Facebook. They talk about the show and ask about the food."
Aguilar, who has owned the butcher shop since 2007, is in a crowded field of butchers on 9th street, some of which have been established for many generations. He is trying to shift his business from selling cuts of meat to prepared foods unique to Mexican culinary tradition, like chorizo sausage, marinated carne asada, and tamales.
Plays about Mexican history have been a shot in the arm. His tamales now outsell his raw meat. He is adding tacos and sandwiches to the menu, giving more floor space over to tables and chairs for eating in.
This year, Aguilar and Davis doubled down with a play three times longer - 45 minutes - for a run twice as long - two weeks. Davis plays Maximilion I, an Austrian installed as emperor of Mexico in 1864 by the emperor of France, Napoleon III.
Maximilion was immediately disliked by Mexican liberals loyal to deposed President Benito Juarez, who did not want a foreign emperor forced upon them.
"Emperors are this thing that reoccur constantly. It goes back thousands of years. They rise," said Davis. "It asks questions, what is a leader? What do leaders do? What do we do when we discover they are petulant children, like my Emperor Maximilion, who just wants people to like him? That's all he wants. But he doesn't get that."
Davis wrote the script during the ascendency of President Donald Trump, who has been openly hostile to Mexican immigrants and proposed a controversial wall against Mexico.
Davis makes subtle reference to President Trump in the play - at one point wearing a red hat that reads “Has Mexico Mejor Otra Vez” (Make Mexico Great Again) - but said this is solely the story of Maximilion, whose life was a complex narrative of privilege, ambition, and compassion, and ultimately sacrifice.
After three years Napoleon III pulled French troops out of the country, leaving Maximilion's vulnerable Mexican republicans loyal to Juarez. He was imprisoned and executed by firing squad. His final words, in Spanish, called for Mexico's independence.
Few people in America recognize the name, but in Mexico Maximilion is a well-known figure who outlawed child labor and was a champion of the poor. He also was a monarch who refused a democratic process.
"He's a hero, in a sense, and at the same time he represents colonialism," said Davis.
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