26

– Spring 2011

Abstract Honduras

Catherine Sullivan, Farhad Sharmini

Tags: Catherine Sullivan

Ronald Tavel's play The Last Days of British Honduras was produced only once, in 1974, at the Public Theater, as part of the New York Shakespeare Festival. In Tavel's wide-ranging body of work - he wrote some of the most iconic Warhol movies ('Vinyl', 1965; 'Chelsea Girls', 1966); co-founded the Playhouse of the Ridiculous; won an Obie Award for The Boy on the Straight-Back Chair (1969); provoked an international scandal with Indira Ghandi's Daring Device (1967) - Last Days stood out for us as especially eccentric: a slowly churning, highly discursive colonial Death in Venice scenario combined with light-comedic and magic-realist elements and placed in the nervy politico-ethnic context immediately preceding the 1971 British Honduras (now Belize) referendum on independence. This bid for independence was in fact rejected, even after the British administration had largely departed.

The transposition of the colonial drama, crash-landing it, as it were, from subtropical jungle to wintertime North American city made counter-intuitive sense to us: a sharply contrasting geographicmeteorological crossroads of cultures and histories in which demographic tensions have been historically, and now all too familiarly, exacerbated. An important part of the transposition, however, was based on a slice of the Near West Side of Chicago, a constellation of buildings and other urban features put by historical circumstance into close proximity - and utilised by us as filming locations. There are, within the proverbial 40 acres, several lived-in churches; the fairly monstrous United Center sports and entertainment complex (Michael Jordan's home court); Malcolm X College, a glass slab not so named because of a liberationist pedagogy but because residents took a vote on naming their local city college; and the hulking shell of the long-abandoned