Comforting delusions

October 16, 1996

Orchids in the Moonlight
By Carlos Fuentes
Directed by Jose de Kosta
Theatre X
The Pilgrim Theatre, until October 27
Reviewed by Neville Spencer

Orchids in the Moonlight (Orquídeas a la Luz de la Luna) is the third play written by Carlos Fuentes, Mexico's most outstanding literary figure. The main characters are two ageing Chicanas who live in a small and dingy apartment in Venice Beach, Los Angeles.

Formerly actresses in Mexico, they had come to the US looking for Hollywood careers. These dreams had been dashed, so the two find fulfilment by supporting each other's delusions that they are the great Mexican actresses Dolores del Río and María Félix. Their fantasies are rudely shattered when one day a man knocks at their door claiming to be a fan of theirs.

As with most of his writing, one of Fuentes' main concerns is to explore the nature and anomalies of the Mexican identity. Central to this project has been the legacy of the Mexican Revolution, but also intertwined is all of Mexico's history from the precolonial past and the conquest to the present day.

Written in 1982, the year in which Mexico's economic crisis brought the country firmly under the control of New York bankers, Orchids in the Moonlight explores that aspect of the Mexican identity reflected in its relationship to the United States, an aspect all the more dominant now in the era of NAFTA. The hopes and dreams which many Mexicans have invested in the relationship with the US or in a better life in the US, have proved to be very much delusions.

Fuentes is far better known as a novelist than a playwright and is probably more comfortable with the epic themes he is able to follow in his novels than with the restrictions presented by the stage play. The exploration of the lives and dreams of Chicanos, however, is an important addition to what can be seen as Fuentes' "Mexican identity" project, and is by its nature less of an epic theme than that provided by previous stages of Mexican history.