Mexican Traditional Toys and Miniatures: a Desire to Play

Mexic-Arte Museum
through May 17

How should you approach an exhibition of toys? Playfully. Both audience and presenter should suspend at least some of the grown-up, good-for-you attitude that burdens most visits to the museum and aim for a good time. Mexic-Arte Museum's "Mexican Traditional Toys and Miniatures" delivers a good time with style.

Living relatively close to the Mexican border, we can't help but be familiar with many of the objects in the exhibition: carved wooden animals, tiny terra cotta dishes, brightly painted puppets and dolls. Yes, yes, we've seen them all before, inside peddlers' stalls in Laredo and Juarez, in every import outlet around town. But this is different.

This exhibition puts those familiar objects on a pedestal -- literally -- and urges us to slow down and take a second look at what we think we already know. "The history of Mexican toys is a window to the history of the Mexican imagination itself," says the statement on the wall. Try carrying those words in your head as you peer into the display cases with puppets from the early 1900s depicting military guards, a skeleton with mask, a bullfighter, and a revolutionary. Those weren't the dolls I played with. The experience of the people who made these toys differs radically from my own.

On the other hand, there are also cornhusk dolls and tiny pitchers and goblets, dishes, and tables and chairs -- cross-cultural playthings. Contemporary photographs describe some of the people who make and sell these toys. Vintage photographs portray Mexican children (of a certain socio-economic status) at play. Two little girls pose with a nearly life-size baby doll who is dressed in the same style as the girls. They look familiar. The current exhibition at Mexic-Arte is both inclusive of Everychild's play experience and specific to Mexico; it elicits both insight into Mexican culture and the desire to play.

The museum's staff clearly had fun installing the show. They painted murals and mounted toys atop the largest one, an amalgam of children's drawings and drawings for children borrowed from books. In fact, the enormous painting nearly overwhelms the rest of this exhibition, the product of co-curators Juan Coronel Rivera, the grandson of Diego Rivera, and Cristina Kahlo, the grandniece of Frieda Kahlo. A small catalogue, available in the museum gift shop, identifies the more than 400 objects selected for display and includes photographs of a few. Without the catalogue, the tiny numbers next to each object mean nothing. But who needs numbers or catalogues when you've got tin airplanes and painted Ferris wheels and banks shaped like turkeys and tigers?

Also at Mexic-Arte is an ongoing exhibition of Mexican masks in the front gallery and "Luz and the Good Teachers," a considerably more didactic exhibition in the back. If you tire of reading the accompanying materials which address Mexico's educational goals from 1900 to 1925, look for Jean Charlot's lithographic portrait of Dona Luz and compare it to photographs of the remarkable storyteller and artists' model. Before our eyes, Luz is transformed from maiden to Mexican icon. Amazing. -- Rebecca S. Cohen


Hyde Park Theatre
through May 17
Running Time: 1 hr, 20 min

Edmond, both the character and the play, is a lot like one of those kitschy sno-globes you can buy at almost any tourist trap. Some contain a bright plastic Miami-scape, complete with neon hotels, pink flamingos, and sand that swirls when you jiggle them. Or there is the Dallas model, full of oil derricks and 10-gallon hats. Money gently floats through the water when it is tipped upside-down. Then there is the New York City sno-globe. Bums and three-card monte dealers line the grimy streets. Whores and pimps lounge in the alleys. Wall Street businessmen prowl the corners for a little bit of action to remind them why they are alive. Weapons float through the red water. And what we see is this tacky souvenir being given a serious shake.

Edmond, the production by Subterranean Theatre Company, is a slick and somewhat hard-edged version of this troubling David Mamet script. You really want to like Edmond, a bored suit who leaves his wife and goes off in search of the ultimate score. He wanders the streets of New York like a lost puppy, looking for something he can't quite define and gets routinely taken by everyone he encounters. This is Mamet at his best, pissed off and foul-mouthed while he creates complex characters that seem to be no deeper than a hustler's heart.

There are some engaging performances buried beneath the grit of set designer Michael Stuart's faux brick alley. David Jones, Malcolm Callan, and Shannon Grounds enact a host of characters, and these gifted actors imbue each with his or her own distinct personality. Emily Erington plays Glenna with great conviction, enough so that we understand how she finds herself in such a deadly predicament. Ken Webster as Edmond plays up his character's pettiness and disbelief while making you wonder how exactly he decided to follow this winding path. It's hard to get beneath this Edmond's skin; he simply seems too selfish and vain to have any redeeming qualities.

Like a sno-globe, this production is buried beneath a hard shell, designed to look grimy in a sanitized sort of way. It is not to be taken apart and examined, lest you end up with a lap full of water and some soggy pieces of plastic. It's just another knickknack to stick on the shelf signifying the most shallow components of your vacation. -- Adrienne Martini


Zachary Scott Theatre Center
through May 31
Running time: 1 hr, 45 min

It never fails -- you get involved with someone and just when you're ready to commit for the long haul, the one with whom you're all set to settle wants to fly solo again. Or your lover wants to find a place together just as you've decided you like living apart. Or one of you is ready for a child and the other isn't. Or.... It may be any one of a thousand things, the thing is, you're trying to bind two lives into one, but you each have different needs or maybe the same needs but they surface at different times, so it's inevitable that they'll exert their forces on your relationship, pushing and pulling, pulling and pushing, again and again and again.

Push and Pull could easily be another title for this drama by Jane Martin (Talking With, Keely and Du). For in its record of the relationship between a man and a woman who share the names of the nursery rhyme characters, it focuses on the moments when the conflicting needs of the lovers rise to the fore, shoving and wrenching their shared life. These moments are likely to be familiar to any viewer who's been deeply involved with another person; Martin uses very common conflicts -- over commitment, perceived infidelity, career demands, the desire for children. This and Martin's perceptive comments on male-female differences give this romance a universality bordering on the generic.

This affair, however, is distinctly of our time and society. This Jack and Jill are Americans of the Nineties, on the fast track in terms of the professional but cautious in terms of the personal (and the sexual). They advance in their fields, they fly, they jog, they carry condoms. And in all things, they're relentlessly analytical. When they talk (and later, argue), Jack and Jill dissect each other's actions and ascribe motivations to them. They are, like many of us today, armchair critics who feel the need to judge and explain away everything around us. Martin captures something very timely in her sketch of these modern lovers, but her portrait won't appeal to everyone. Though much of it is funny, its shadows of narcissism and wash of analysis will strike some as harsh.

In giving Jack and Jill life at the Zachary Scott Theatre Center, director Alice Wilson and actors Marco Perella and Meredith Robertson soften the characters' sharp edges somewhat. Perella offers an easygoing, guy-next-door air; his Jack's a regular Joe. Robertson's Jill is bright and rather friendly, just no-nonsense about getting what she wants. Both keep the brittle angst to a minimum, opting instead to reveal an honest anguish in their hearts whenever they can. Wilson keeps the connection between the two taut, so that every push, every pull, is clear. What comes through is a keen reflection of modern love, strained to the breaking point, with all the pain that entails, yet striving to hold together. -- Robert Faires

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Arts Reviews
Art Review: “Masters: Calder and Dalí”
Art Review: “Masters: Calder and Dalí”
Rare gems get the chance to shine at Ao5

Cat McCarrey, July 19, 2024

Art Review: “Encounters in the Garden”
Art Review: “Encounters in the Garden”
Laredo-based artist renders open interaction with the unfamiliar

Lina Fisher, July 12, 2024

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle