Reaches the Peak of his career

Luis Valdez

By Iride Aparicio

Photos Courtesy: Dave Lepori

SAN JOSE, CA –  Producer/Director/Playwright/Activist LUIS VALDEZ is the Artistic Director of EL TEATRO CAMPESINO, (THE FARMERS' THEATRE) which he founded in San Juan Bautista in l965 and describes as "The theatre that was  born at the Picket Line" because it was started  during the  "Grape Strike", organized by CESAR CHAVEZ with the purpose to improve the working conditions of the  field's workers in the California vineyards.

 Winner of the 20l6 San Francisco Bay Area Critic Circle Award, "Best Production Entire Bay Area" for his play, "Valley of the  Heart" (presented at the SAN JOSÉ STAGE) and recipient of  an "OBIE Award," (the Off-Broadway Theater Award bestowed to theater artists and groups in New York City), LUIS VALDEZ, who studied theatre at San José State University, is recognized as the most influential Mexico-Americano playwright since 1978, when he introduced his play "Zoot Suit" to the American theatre and Broadway. A natural storyteller and historian, most of his plays are based in the history and folklore of México, where his parents are from, or California, where he was born.  

His new play, "ADIÓS MAMÁ CARLOTA," shown in its World Premiere at SAN JOSE STAGE COMPANY in partnership with EL TEATRO CAPESINO, is historic. Written with the support from The Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation theatre Commissioning Award, the work is based in some little known history of Mexico, when it became an Empire and was ruled by Emperor  MAXIMILIAN I of Austria and his wife, Belgian princes  MARIE CHARLOTTE AMÉLIE  AUGUSTINE VICTOIRE CLÉMENTINE LÉOPOLDINE, who the Mexicans, in jest, called "MAMÁ (MOTHER) CARLOTA"  

Allison F. Rich as Carlota and Will Springhorn as Maximiliano
Allison F. Rich as Carlota and Will Springhorn as Maximilian

The play relates the story of how Carlota, 24, a Belgian Princess, through an  arranged marriage, with  Ferdinand Maximilian I, became the Empress of Mexico.

Who was Maximilian I? Born in July 6, l832 in the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria, Maximilian was an Austrian Archduke and the younger son of  Emperor Ferdinand I, of the House of Habsburg-Lorrain.  

When his older brother Franz, became Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I. after his father abdicated, young Maximilian decided to outrank his brother by getting better educated. He took military studies and served as a Rear Admiral in the Austrian navy, and as  Governor General of the Lombardo-Venetian Kingdom. During his life, he studied geography, history, law and technology, and he learned to speak German, Hungarian, Slovak, English, French, Italian and Spanish.

His humanities' background  (Studying courses that investigate human concerns and social relations) created in him an attitude or way of  life centered on human interest and human values, the characteristic that he began displaying when he was sixteen years old and was asked to accompany his brother to end the  European revolt in l848. When Franz Joseph I, ended  the revolt by executing  hundreds of revels, he was horrified. Shocked by the human massacre young Maximilian told Franz: "We call our age the Age of Enlighten, but there are cities in Europe where, in the future, men will look back in horror at the injustice of tribunals which in the spirit of vengeance, condemned those whose only crime lay in wanting something different to the arbitrary rule of governments which place themselves above the law."  

Sadly, later in his life, Maximilian's humanistic spirit was unequal to the intrigues of Napoleon III, of France, who, wanting to broaden his imperialistic ambitions to make Mexico a French Colony, made Maximilian believe (in l863 when he was 37 years old) that the conservative  Mexican people needed his help in overthrowing  the Liberal government of President Benito Juarez. He offered Mexico to Maximilian (if he help him fight Juarez) and pledged to help him win the battle by giving him the French troops stationed in Mexico. Thinking that he was "Protecting " the Mexicans, from Juarez and that he could bring them a better education (from Europe)  and rule them with paternal benevolence, Maximilian accepted. He was  crowned Mexican Emperor on June 10, 1864, and by April, 1865, the French Army supporting Maximilian had drove ex- President, Juarez to the North of the country.  

"ADIÓS MAMÁ CARLOTA" starts inside the Castle Bouchout in Belgium during the years 1914-1927,  with Carlota, (ALLISON F. RICH) her back hunched by age,  walking around a room where, hanging on the wall, we could see the red background of two oil paintings: one of  Emperor Maximilian I, in full regalia, and the other of Carlota as an Empress, wearing a crown on her head..

L-R Jessica Osegueda as a Ghost  and  Allison F. Rich as Carlota
L-R Jessica Osegueda as a "Ghost"  and  Allison F. Rich as Carlota

Speaking in a commanding tone, she introduces herself to the audience saying: "I am Marie Charlotte of Belgium, Empress of Mexico and of America. I am Marie Charlotte Amélie cousin of the Queen of England."  As she talks, one of the "Ghosts" of her past (JESSICA OSEGUEDA) dressed as a Mexican peasant, appears in the room singing the song "Adios mama Carlota" in a  beautiful timbre of voice. (This song is a Mexican corrido that was actually written for the Empress in México during 1864-1867).  

"ADIÓS MAMÁ CARLOTA' is not only the story of Carlota and Maximilian, but the History of Mexico during l864-l867, so there are many characters in the play:  Carlota, played by ALLISON F. RICH. Maximilian, Lincoln (WILL SPRINGHORN Jr. ) Conchita, Pepita Margarita (JESSICA OSEGUEDA), Napoleon III, Archibishop Don Felipe, Miramon, and Ghost (MARTIN ROJAS DIETRICH) Manuela Eugene, Ghost (ESTRELLA ESPARZA-JOHNSON) Van Der Smissen, Franz Josef, Painter, and Ghost (SEAN OKUNIEWICZ) and Sedano, Juarez, Mejia, and Ghost (NOE YAOCOATL MONTOYA).

The interwoven story of her life, told from the point of view of Carlota (with some music and songs) and moves by the sudden apparitions of  "ghosts from her past" who visit her mind and return her thoughts to Mexico, where she ruled as an Empress from l864 to l867. 

As part of the play, we see her when she was younger, looking sad because she had discovered that she may be barren and as an Empress, she needs an heir. We observe her as she tries to overcome her problem by drinkin cup after cup of  "chocolate " (cocoa) with Toluache (an Aphrodisiac herb) hoping that ir will help her get pregnant. (Many people believed that drinking so much Toluache, was the reason why she lost her mind) During the play, we see different aspects of her character. During the time she was an Empress, she was also a dejected woman being abandoned by her husband, Maximilian) who traveled constantly away from Mexico. As part of the play, she feels humiliated because Maximilian has a lover. A Mexican Indian that we know only as  "The India Bonita" (JESSICA OSEGUEDA). Also as an Empress, Carlota's life is always fearful. She is aware that ex-president Benito Juarez (YAOCOATL MONTOYA) is reuniting Mexican revels in the North to build an army and recover his presidency. And, also in the play, we see Carlota with Van Der Sissen (SEAN OKUNIEWICZ) her lover.

Carlota (Allison F. Rich) and  Van Der Smissen, Sean Okuniewicz
Carlota (Allison F. Rich) and  Van Der Smissen ( Sean Okuniewicz)

"ADIÓS MAMÁ CARLOTA' is a fast moving story with secrets and intrigues and unfulfilled promises. The play presents Maximilian I, not a villian, but as a naive man who was duped by Napoleon III into believing that as an Emperor, he could make Mexico, his Empire, another Paris, with palaces, top education for the people, fair government, and broad boulevards with trees and statues. (One example is his "Avenue Carlota," now Avenida de la Reforma)

Sadly, while he worried about  the architecture and the culture of his Empire, his enemies, which now included the Catholic Church because he had refused to return to the priests the land that Benito Juarez had confiscated from them and gave it to the peasants, are growing in numbers and beginning to rally with Juarez. By the time he realizes the danger, it is too late, and the wrong time.

L-R Edward Hightowe as Bazine and Will Springhorn jr. as Maximilian
L-R Edward Hightowe as Bazine and Will Springhorn jr. as Maximilian

The American Civil War had ended, and the U.S.A. had demanded the withdrawal on French troops from Mexico. Trying to save their Empire, Carlota goes back to Paris, France, to seek aid for her husband from Napoleon III and Pope Pius IX, but her efforts failed.

This part of the story gets confusing in the play, but this is what happened: In 1867, Juarez returned to Mexico and asked Maximilian to abdicate. Feeling that he could not honorably abandon his people he refused. Miramon (ROJAS DIETRICH) made Maximilian Supreme Commander of the Imperial Army and with his few Mexican backers Maximilian went to fight Juarez in Querétaro. He was betrayed into capitulation on May 15, 1867.  In violation of his promise, Juarez refused to grant him clemency. Ferdinand Maximilian I was executed in El Cerro de Las Campanas in Querétaro, on June l9, l867.

Directed by KINAN VALDEZ, with the creative choreography of KEITH PINTO and a realistic acting from each one of the actors in their different roles, "ADIÓS MAMÁ CARLOTA" is a story in the history of Mexico, that needed to be told to a new generation. In telling it to us, with the magic that he did, playwright " LUIS VALDEZ excelled himself.

"ADIÓS MAMÁ CARLOTA" will be shown at THE STAGE, 490 South First Street, San Jose, California, 95ll3 until April 28. For tickets  call 408 283 7142 or go online to boxoffice@thestage.org