A Mexican restaurant in Philadelphia reinvents Shakespeare

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This version of “Twelfth Night” is equal parts comic farce, romance and call to action, as audience members are encouraged to hold handmade signs protesting a detention center while chanting “Sí, se puede!” and “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!”

“It’s about two people surviving in a place they don’t know and which is so foreign to them. They have to adapt and they have to change themselves,” said co-writer and director Tanaquil Márquez. “To survive, to adapt, to see what surrounds us, we must do it out of love.”

One of the Venezuelan twins, Violeta (played by Izzy Sazak), disguises herself as a young man and falls into the employ of the Duke of Illyria. She falls in love with him, but must help the Duke woo his love, Olivia, who in turn falls in love with Violeta’s disguise.

Meanwhile, the Duke is pressured by a corrupt detention center official to carry out mass arrests of immigrants, in order to keep the facility fully occupied. The character Feste, who in the original play is a court jester, is played by Ximena Violante as a musician of Mexican folk songs and leader of a protest movement.

Delaware Shakespeare performers perform a reimagined bilingual version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at Alma del Mar, a Mexican restaurant in Philadelphia’s South Italian Market. (Peter Crimmins/WHY)

The storyline echoes long-running protests outside the Berks County residential center, where women and children arrested crossing the Mexican border have been held. It closed in 2021 and reopened in 2022 as a women-only facility.

The play is part of Delaware Shakespeare’s Community Tour, a program that stages versions of Shakespeare’s plays in alternative spaces, such as schools, libraries, community centers, and even Delaware prisons. This is the first time the company has staged a play in a restaurant.

“A lot of theater says, come to us, sit in a blank space, the lights will go out and you can just be there. It automatically limits who’s coming,” said production art director David Stradley. “So the whole point of that is to get out into the community where the community is comfortable.”

Stradley said many of the Community Tour’s partner sites since its launch in 2016 largely serve Latin American populations, so it made sense to create bilingual versions of Shakespeare.

“We can’t just put Spanish in it. There must be a real reason for this,” he said. “Hence the idea of ​​exploring immigration through it.”

The Spanish heard is in at least two dialects, corresponding to the nationalities of the characters.

“So whenever the twins speak in Spanish, it’s Venezuelan Spanish,” Márquez said. “Whenever Feste speaks in Spanish, it’s Mexican Spanish.

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