Hot Tamales! Playwright Chris Davis talks Mexican food and history ahead of his butcher play

If there are two things Chris Davis knows they are good theater and good Mexican food. Chris’s one-man adventures into his fearless imagination, Drunk Lion (returning ), Bortle 8, and The Violence of the Lambs impressed audiences in Philadelphia before going on acclaimed runs at the Edinburgh Fringe and festivals across the United States. His collaborative larger cast adaptations of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Anna Karenina, and Hollywood ape movies were standouts of the last three Philadelphia Fringes.

In preparing Drunk Lion, which remains perhaps his best-realized piece, Chris drew upon his experiences living in Mexico City. He returns to this milieu with his new work JUAN-WINFIELD ESCUTIA-SCOTT, OR THE MEXICAN-AMERICAN WAR, A BUTCHER PLAY, which premieres at Los Amigos Food Market on S. Ninth Street, February 23-26, 2016. Chris gives Phindie a lesson on Mexican history and food ahead of his short run.

Chris Davis

Chris Davis.

Phindie: Who are Winfield Scott and Juan Escutia?

Chris Davis: Winfield Scott was the General of the American army that invaded Mexico in 1847. Juan Escutia was one of six boys who heroically refused to retreat. Legend says that he leaped to his death with the Mexican flag wrapped around his body.

Phindie: What attracted you to the story of the Mexican-American War?

CD: I lived near the monuments dedicated to the Niños Héroes (Boy Soldiers) in Mexico City, so that’s where I first encountered the story. The result of the war was the Mexican Cession which gave us the current states of California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of New Mexico and Arizona, which greatly impacted the history of Mexico and the United States.

Phindie: How did you connect to Los Amigos Food Market?

CD: I moved from Mexico City to Philadelphia in 2009. And quickly I found myself trying to recreate the food from Mexico, so I visited a lot of stores in the area until I found Los Amigos. It quickly became my favorite because of the owner Raul and the chorizo was amazing. It’s now been six years that I’ve been going to the store and I’ve seen it go through its own story, ups and downs, financial crisis, and somewhere along the way I became a part of it and would occasionally help out Raul with health inspection stuff, English translations, and so on.

Los Amigos.

Los Amigos.

Phindie: What do you like about putting on a show there?

CD: When I wrote this play I wanted it specifically in Raul’s butcher shop. I think war and raw meat are fitting companions. The Mexican-American war is a strange, often overlooked war in American history. However in Mexico it is very, very well-known and still discussed. Raul, who is a native of the city of Puebla, moved here to start a business a decade ago and has worked incredibly hard to realize his dream. His story is of an emigrant coming to a new place, Philadelphia, and enriching it, and so I’d like, in some way, to do the same for him.

There is something nice about making my Winfield Scott, the general of the American army that invaded Mexico, have to perform his show in a Mexican butcher shop. Technically the United States ‘won’ the war, but a hundred and fifty years later, there has been so much overlap between the two countries, and a shared culture, it’s hard to look at it the same way. I want to celebrate and explore this history.

Phindie: If your play was a Mexican dish what would it be?

CD: Tamales.

Phindie: You’ve been taking your shows on the road recently, to Edinburgh, to NOLA, elsewhere. How has that changed the way you approach performances and creation?

CD: Every festival or performance opportunity makes you better. Edinburgh in particular because it is so demanding. I think the difference is I now feel comfortable in any theatrical environment and situation.

Phindie: What’s your favorite burrito?

CD: Beef burrito with hot sauce from Cancun Taqueria in Berkeley, California.

Phindie: Thanks Chris. I like al pastor from the now defunct Mexico on the Square.

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.