The True History of Coca-Cola in Mexico is a spoof of a spoof – an edgy satire of two starry-eyed directors who set out to film a satire about Coca-Cola, the Holy Grail of American exports, and document the impact on Mexican culture of the world’s top selling, non-alcoholic soft drink.
A flowing, white ribbon, designed by Elizabeth J. McFadden, swirls across a red brick flat like a rising wave, suggestive of the “dynamic ribbon,” adopted in 2007 as a simplified logo for Coca-Cola cans and bottles. White circles are painted on the floor of the pop-art set that keeps the famous icon ever present in our minds.
Against this backdrop, actors Daniel Eichner as Pat, and Jaime Robert Carrillo as Aldo, two film directors, give high-octane, virtuoso performances. Eichner and Carrillo are two Charlie Chaplins, dazzling us with their quick-changes into an awesome human menagerie of about thirty different characters that range from historic Mexican leaders to present-day, hyper-kinetic Coke-Ad Rock Stars.
Like Don Quixote and his sidekick Poncho Sanza on a quest for Truth, present-day Pat and Aldo are filled with the loftiest of dreams. These young directors are hell-bent on preserving the history of the vanishing Mayan culture by filming a documentary of a cross-section of poor people in Mexican small towns. In the midst of displaying Mexican history, including multi-revolutions and presidential assassinations, the film makers want to expose the good, bad and beautiful effects of American globalization through commercialism.
Director Jose Carrasquillo stages a breathtaking hairpin-turn journey that ends with a totally surprising, switchback twist that is astonishing. At points, the satire is scathing; at other points, recognizable but genuinely funny and informative.
“Coke adds life?” Pat incredulously asks his partner, Aldo, as they prepare for their quest. Can a drink whose original formula was sold as an alternative to heroin add life? Pat is asking. Aldo answers by impersonating John S. Pemberton, a 19th century druggist and former Confederate soldier, who used the South American coca plant as one ingredient in Coca-Cola. Now caffeine, sugar and de-cocainized coca are used to give the consumer a “lift.” What can possibly be wrong with exporting a soft drink that’s synonymous with the Good Life, fun, freedom?
From this point on, Pat and Aldo tell Mexico’s story through a series of enacted episodic scenes to answer the question, as Pepe, an offstage cameraman we never see, lets the film roll. To what extent does Coca-Cola, that no longer uses the narcotic in its recipe, bring life to Mexico?
Here’s a sample: Daniel Eichner impersonates a helmeted Spanish Conquistador, who has lust for Mayan and Aztec gold. But the American company has sent another wave of invaders and conquerors that fill grocery shelves with manufactured food and drink, Aldo tells us. You can virtually taste the juice; the impact is sweet, wholesome, not embittered. That’s just the way life is. Mexican school children know Bart Simpson and other cartoon characters from American TV shows better than they know who the Mexican founding fathers and past presidents are. Rufinito, played by Carrillo, is obsessed with playing the video game “Desert Assault,” manufactured by a Japanese company.
Cut to another scene: Senora Tamayo, (played by Carrillo), is the Mayan wife, who lives in a small Mayan village in the highlands of Chiapas, is addicted to soap operas. She never misses her daily diet of “The Rich Also Cry,” one of the highpoint, scene-stoppers that brings down the house. Then we catch a glimpse of life in Cancun, or the “Beverly Hills on a beach,” a hilarious take-off parody of American tourists, a truck driver (Carillo) and his wife, (Eichner in a wig) at a luxurious resort. What’s real food? A Domino’s pizza.
When Pat and Aldo believe they’re filming and preserving an ancient, esoteric ritual, the healer, or Curandero (Carillo) brings out his sacred healing potion-none other than a bottle of Coca-Cola. It just goes to indicate that, according to program notes from the “Toma Lo Bueno,” the not-to-be-missed art photography exhibition in the Tivoli lobby, “ubiquitous Coke” has been integrated into local Mayan spiritual rituals, even into the churches.
But Pat and Aldo, the ever-hovering film directors, in their running commentary, prove to be often insensitive to what’s really happening. The bulldozers are poised to clear the Tamayo’s house in the Mayan village for urban/suburban development. And because the producers of the documentary want more drama, they superimpose their own preconceptions. In their blind eagerness for action, Pat and Aldo hasten an eminent domain takeover by the Mexican government that destroys the indigenous, native life, they intended to preserve.
About that switch-back at the end? The final twist is the ultimate irony; and hits harder, right-on, like a well-timed punch line to a well-told joke. Pepe, the cameraman, who never appears on stage, has capitalistic designs of his own, which I won’t reveal. But later, a new medium gets created-a “mockumentary,” alongside Pat’s and Aldo’s documentary. The ending mirrors the beginning. The playwrights, Aldo Velasco and Patrick Scott, the prototypes for the characters Aldo and Pat, have found a perfect recipe for arousing thought that’s right on the money.
In English with Spanish surtitles
The True History of Coca-Cola in Mexico (La Verdadera Historia de Coca-Cola en Mexico)
By Aldo Velasco & Patrick Scott
Directed by Jose Carrasquillo
Produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre at Tivoli Square
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Art photography by Sally Brucker and Jim Williams in the lobby of the Tivoli Theatre. “Toma Lo Bueno” is reinforcing and worthwhile scrutinizing.