For those who saw the inaugural performance of Guadalajara’s new Festival de Cabaret last Friday, it was clear that this theatrical to-do’s calling isn’t just to provide the public with a good time full of delectable transgression and hilarity —
it’s also a call to arms, an impassioned rebuke to hatred, fear, ignorance, and to the violence and discrimination towards people of different persuasions bred by those three soul-rotting elements. In that sense, the festival as a whole serves cabaret’sprimary purpose, which is, at least in the opinion of the festival’s main star, to act as a kind of pitiless Greek Chorus, telling society the unvarnished truth about itself.
At the tip of this anti-bigotry flying V is Cesar Enriquez, who opened the festival with his solo show, “Pritty Gouman,” a jaw-dropping exercise in sustained stage presence, wit, timing, memorization, dancing, singing, ruthless piss-taking, soul-bearing honesty and sheer physical endurance.
Enriquez, a Mexico City born-and-bred veteran of theatrical performance, is involved in the festival not only in his capacity as an entertainer, but also as a teacher; a key centerpiece of the two-week-long affair is a five-day clinic led by him, held at the headquarters of the Teatro Experimental de Jalisco in Parque Agua Azul.
“To be precise, cabaret is a theatrical genre that involves farce, an element of the didactic, humor, political dissidence, and satire,” Enriquez explained to me while the ten participating students — most of whom have a background in theater — filed past and out the door.
“It also,” he added, “has to contain a certain posture, a position, towards one or more social problems.”
The social critique aspect of cabaret performance was ably and discreetly woven into his show, the central character of which is a transexual prostitute from Veracruz. Over the course of about two hours, several musical numbers (including Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”) and numerous costume changes, Enriquez deftly inserted pointed jabs at what he considers Mexican society’s ill treatment of the LGBTQ community.
“Wartime German cabaret was like a mobile news service,” said Enriquez, “with all that was happening around them being filtered through these comedic, satirical shows. During the Mexican Revolution the same kind of thing was happening, and well before what was going on in Germany; you can therefore say that Mexican cabaret isn’t a copy of the German or French version. We have our own aesthetic. But it had the same effect — it informed the public, and criticized and commented upon what was occurring in the country.”
Since his salad days studying theater in mid-00s CDMX, Enriquez has come to know cabaret inside and out, traveling to New York, Paris, Berlin and beyond in order to keep abreast of what cabaret looks like in other countries.
While in New York there is a general culture of permissiveness, Guadalajara is a different story; although it’s known — together with nearby Puerto Vallarta — as a center of LGTQ activity, the city’s conservatism is deeply rooted, something that can be seen in protests organized against public nudity, same-sex marriage, gay adoption, and even against a statue of a re-imagined Virgin Mary (the perpetually besieged Sincretismo, on calle Federalismo).
But it is precisely Guadalajara’s conservative character that made it, in the minds of the cabaret festival organizers, the perfect place to mount the event; art that challenges and criticizes deeply rooted social mores should be shown where it will have the greatest effect — otherwise, you’re just diddling yourself in a hall of mirrors.
“Around here, they don’t want you to adopt children, they don’t want you to hold hands or kiss in public, etc. So, it seemed important that a space be created in which [social conservatism] can be challenged,” said Enriquez, strong emotion evident in his voice.
Speaking of the personage he brought with him to Guadalajara, the Julia Roberts (and Richard Gere) obsessed Pritty Gouman, Enriquez betrays even stronger feelings, almost as if the character was a beloved friend or relative.
“Society kills people like her,” said Enriquez. “But in this theatrical space she is brave, she confronts the world, she stands up to the police who mess with her. She is empowered.”
On stage last Friday, Enriquez treated subjects like these with a light touch. Mordant humor, after all, is one of the hallmar strategies employed in cabaret the world over, and he didn’t disappoint, delivering a near constant stream of one-liners and risqué wordplay that had the audience convulsing with laughter. But neither did he pull any punches, going for the jugular and all but eating it away with his acid wit.
In other words, Enriquez perfectly performed the function - at least according to his own definition - of a consummate cabaret artist, which is to be titillating, shocking, squirm-inducing, and, above all, entertaining. Look out for his other characterizations, which include famous nun, literary figure - and probable lesbian, according to Enriquez - Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.
Guadalajara’s Cabaret Festival runs until Sunday, February 25. Offerings include performances by veteran local band Los Bomberos and “Las Alegres Comadres de Atracomulco,” a satirical version of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” Most events are either held either at the UdeG’s Conjunto de Artes Escenicas in Zapopan or at Foro Periplo in Guadalajara’s Centro Historico. Go to the festival’s Facebook page for more information.