If you want to see the strength of mutual friendships between the USA and Mexico, look at Lake Chapala, Mexico—the largest community of USA expats in the country.
This past weekend, expats and Mexicans alike stood and applauded and cheered as high school students from nearby Guadalajara staged two performances of the play “Lincoln and Mexico: The Untold Story” celebrating bi-national friendships that helped Mexico defeat French occupation forces in 1867.
Critic Mark Sconce recommended the student play to Lakeside Little Theatre president Peter Luciano after seeing students perform it in March at the American School Foundation of Guadalajara, where historian and playwright Michael Hogan is emeritus humanities chair. After the May 19-20 performances at Lake Chapala, Sconce wrote a piece for a forthcoming issue of El Ojo del Lago magazine describing the lakeside event Saturday night. Here’s part of it:
“The Little Theatre was jam-packed with gringos and Mexicans. Excited chatter filled the hall and patio. You could tell that something special was about to happen.
“When the chime sounded, we all took our seats and paid attention to Peter. He said that tonight’s performance represented a major move for the 50-year-old theatre, a move to create a long-term relationship with the ASFG, one of the top 15 American schools in the world. He praised the kids, the school’s drama department, especially its fantastic director Stacy Ohrt-Billingslea, the author/playwright, and then (bombshell) announced that the Board had decided therefore that all the proceeds from the two performances would be given the school’s drama department. Cheers rang out loud and clear.
“Then it was Dr. Hogan’s turn, and beside him stood a young woman of perhaps 21. A thunderous applause ensued and continued and got louder with sustained cheers. A somewhat embarrassed Hogan thanked us all and introduced Luciana Mendez, one of his longtime students, who had just flown in from Chicago where she now attends DePaul University. He explained that without the nagging of Luciana, he would never have completed the book or begun the play. She was his muse. The Luciana character actually appeared in the play, and yes, she nagged and cajoled.”
The play focuses on the friendship between Mary Todd Lincoln and Matìas Romero, the Mexican ambassador to Washington without portfolio after the French Imperial Army forced Mexican president Benito Juárez into exile in 1862. As president, Abraham Lincoln was preoccupied with the US Civil War, with little time for anything else.
From Romero’s journals, playgoers learned that Mrs. Lincoln was happy to have Romero squire her on frequent shopping trips. Lincoln thanked Romero for that, befriended Romero, and rewarded him with access to General Grant who was sympathetic to Mexico. That led the US to supply Juárez with military equipment and troops, and opened doors to bankers from Boston to San Francisco who bought Mexican bonds. Here’s a little more of Sconce wrote:
“The play itself was better than the performance I saw in Guadalajara, in this writer’s opinion. Of course, the kids knew their lines cold, so the acting was better. Mary Todd in Susie’s Millinery Shop was a thigh-slapper. The play was a huge hit, the ovations rolled on. Hugs and kisses and tears of joy prevailed. It was a Triumph of the first water for Dr. Hogan. He was caught up in the evening and he was celebrated…What a night!”
We salute Sconce for his efforts to arrange for the play at Lake Chapala, because the play informs and educates–and entertains–people about Lincoln’s legacy of support for Mexico. If you’re interested in looking at the play script for a possible performance at your community theatre, or perhaps your college or high school, we would be happy to send a review copy. Just submit a comment to this blog post, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Since the play debuted in March, we’ve received inquiries from local theatre groups in Arizona and California.
The whole story of Lincoln’s support for Mexico, including a factual history of Lincoln’s opposition to the Mexican-American War as Congressman, is in the book “Abraham Lincoln and Mexico: A History of Courage, Intrigue and Unlikely Friendships” authored by Hogan. It’s based on archival documents in both the US and Mexico, and it’s in the Abraham Lincoln presidential library and many university libraries.
We believe the book, and now the play, can promote better relations between the two countries. Paperback and Kindle versions are available online from Amazon in English http://amzn.to/2jQRPnI and Spanish http://amzn.to/2n7minY, and the paperback is available from Barnes&Noble and other bookstores.
P.S. Here’s another interesting tidbit: In 1974, Mexico recognized the importance of Romero’s contributions to foreign affairs by naming its formal foreign service training academy Instituto Matìas Romero. Retired Mexican Emb. Carlos Gonzalez-Magallon revealed this fact to the LLT audience just before curtain time in his brief remarks praising the book and the play. ¡Bravo!
Slideshow: photos from Lakeside Little Theatre at Lake Chapala, Mexico — oldest English-language stage theatre in Mexico.