Actor’s legit shingle fills Mexico City gap

Luna's slate includes ambitious midbudget plays

MEXICO CITY — Actor-producer Diego Luna, who has helped bring local film production to Mexico as a partner in independent shingle Canana, is looking to draw on that know-how, along with a fresh wrinkle in the nation’s legit tax incentive and a jolt of star power, to establish contempo and commercially viable theater in Mexico City.

Though the city has many theatrical offerings, there are few original productions or funds to help small theaters, Luna says, adding that most of what hits the boards in Mexico City falls into one of two categories: small, experimental projects produced by funds from Mexican arts councils or commercial repackaging of surefire Broadway hits and musicals with widespread appeal.

Into that vast gap in the middle, Luna has launched Mueca, a platform for hipper, more challenging fare, which Luna says will offer big names, hit plays and the commercial backing to produce high-quality projects in midsize venues, with eight- to 10-week runs that allow the talent to at least temporarily quit their day jobs.

In May, the shingle ramped up its first show, a 14-week run of “Cock,” an interpretation of Mike Bartlett’s play of the same name, about a man torn between his longtime male partner and the love of a woman. The play co-starred Luna and Jose Maria Yazpik (“Abel”). The May 14 opening was a glitzy media event attended by local TV and film stars; halfway through its successful run, “Cock” had sold some 40,000 tickets.

This month, Mueca continued its journey into edgy waters with “Incendios” — a version of Wajdi Mouawad’s hit “Incendies,” about a late mother’s hidden past and the echoes of cultural violence her children must confront. The play bowed Aug. 12 to 95% capacity at the 240-seat Foro Shakespeare in the trendy La Condesa neighborhood. While “Incendios” ran last year in Mexico City, funded by the Mexico City Culture Secretariat’s theater division, Luna felt that site — the 70-seat Teatro Benito Juarez, located in the city’s red-light district — and lack of promotion made it ripe for restaging. Produced by but not starring Luna, the play is skedded to run at the Foro Shakespeare until Oct. 2.

The new venture comes as the government announced an amendment to the Article 226 tax incentive initiative, which boosted the country’s film industry in 2006. Efiteatro is the legit equivalent, and allows businesses to deduct up to 50 million pesos ($4.2 million) annually in tax incentives for stage productions, with a $165,000 cap per approved production.

Luna was among dozens of industryites who lobbied for the amendment, and is in the process of applying for funding. With two plays in the works, Mueca plans to announce its next show in a couple of weeks, with an eye toward a late-October bow.

Mueca is a spinoff of Canana, which Luna co-founded with fellow thesp Gael Garcia Bernal and producer Pablo Cruz. The company aims to produce two to three plays per year, is funded privately, and also counts Canana’s Cruz as an investor.

Luna credits audience response to the 2008-09 play “The Good Canary,” directed by John Malkovich and in which Luna starred, as serving notice that challenging theater could be successful in urban Mexico; “Canary” played in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey.

“It’s a very dark play and we put it in (the Teatro de los Insurgentes), a venue that is known for musicals, and everyone came,” says Luna, from audiences that favor experimental works to the theater’s regular patrons. An earlier stage role, in 2006’s “Festen,” convinced him his fame from film and TV could draw the legit crowd.

Donning the role of producer, Luna says “Incendios” captures the spirit of Mueca, which he says looks to present plays that change lives.

“When I saw ‘Incendios,’ it changed the way I looked at my life … and my family,” he says. “It was very strong. I believe that theater has that power.”

In addition to touring “Incendios” in several major Mexican cities after its run in the capital, the company is also scheduled to open in Colombia and possibly Argentina.

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