CW: This article contains language and content pertaining to sexual assault and violence.
737 names in seven minutes. This is how many murdered women the production “Women of Ciudad Juárez,” presented by the Teatro Travieso/Troublemaker Theatre company, names at its end to an audience that is weeping, gasping, frozen. Directed by Professor Jimmy Noriega from The College of Wooster Theatre & Dance Department and written by award-winning playwright and actress Cristina Michaus, this production has been touring since January of 2014 and has been performed 34 times in four different countries. On Monday, April 22 at The College of Wooster’s Freedlander Theatre, it was performed again for an audience comprised of students, faculty and the President of the College Sarah Bolton. And there is a reason that the play is still being performed today: from the moment “Women of Ciudad Juárez” begins, its raw depiction of real women who have been tortured, raped and murdered in Juárez, Mexico grips its audience and never lets go — because even today, 20 years after this femicide began in Juárez, it is still continuing.
Actresses Stephanie Castrejón, Janna Haywood, Aviva Neff and Summit J. Starr deliver a performance in “Women of Ciudad Juárez” that is emotionally and physically charged. After the Monday night performance, in a Q&A session with the audience, the director and the actresses spoke to the mental toll that each performance takes on them; and at the end of the performance, each actress was crying in a reflection of the audience’s own teary reception.
The subject matter is heavy. For an hour, the actresses brandish knives, tear cloth and bind one another in a depiction of the egregious violence that women in Juárez have been subjected to for two decades. In Juárez, daughters, sisters and wives go missing for years, only for unidentifiable bones and mutilated bodies to be found in the scorching desert that runs through the U.S.-Mexico border. And men from Juárez are only receiving impunity from the Mexican government: the police brush aside evidence and are often even complicit in these crimes, and laws that have been proposed to stem the violence are either ineffectual or only continue the cycle of violence. Yet it is not Mexico alone that is implicated in this issue; the U.S. is also involved, in its movement of factories across the border to gain cheap labor and in its tourists who travel to Mexico, especially at times like spring break, to visit the “murder destination” of Juárez, in the words of Noriega.
While delivering powerful monologues on these minimal efforts by our governments, the actresses also give voices to the women whose names have not even been spoken before now. So many bodies are continually found in the desert near Juárez and often delivered to the wrong families, or families never learn what happened to their daughters and wives. In a statement by Noriega from the article “Women of Ciudad Juarez’ Portrays the Unsolved Murders of Women” by Emily Younker, “The play is not just poignant and heartbreaking; it is [a] call for action. Showing multiple female perspectives of life in Juárez … the production speaks out against all forms of violence against the female body and psyche.”
In the Q&A session after the performance, Noriega spoke on the importance of his company’s production that portrays this vital issue to a growing audience: “The power of theatre and the show is to send a message to the audience” that moves them to make a change collectively. This is the value of productions like this that communicate such important and emotional stories. By touching one audience at a time — by giving names to hundreds of women who have not been named before — Michaus, Noriega and the play’s four actresses hope to inspire people transnationally to make a difference and end the senseless murders of hundreds of women in Mexico.