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September 17, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, September 17, 2004

A meeting of the minds A meeting of the minds (September 17, 2004)

Drama imagines interaction between London and MacArthur

By Katie Vaughn

Scene: The United States invades a country to protect its oil interests. Then a rumor circulates about prisoner abuse.

While "Veracruz" has the components of a present-day critique, it's a historical drama set nearly a century ago in Mexico.

The Pear Avenue Theatre, along with the Bootstrap Foundation, is opening its third season with the world premiere of "Veracruz." The play is based on the Veracruz incident that took place in the spring of 1914. After Mexican officials arrested nine U.S. sailors for entering a prohibited area during the Mexican Revolution, President Woodrow Wilson sent a force of marines to the Gulf of Mexico port of Veracruz.

Amidst the drama, two real-life main characters emerged: famed writer Jack London (Mark D. Messersmith), on assignment for Collier's Weekly, and young army captain Douglas MacArthur (Ron Tabot), who would later become a five-star U.S. Army General.

"This is historical fiction at its best," said Director Jeanie Forte. "We know that MacArthur and London were in the same hotel at the same time in Veracruz, and we know what London did. So the author has imagined a probable and plausible interaction between the two powerhouse men, with a possible outcome."

Their imagined interaction coincides with their interests -- London wants access to the top ranks of the military for his articles and MacArthur hopes London will make him well-known by writing about him.

"It's a struggle for power and a symbiotic relationship," said co-producer and artistic director Diane Tasca. "And they're pushed into a crisis involving an incident with Mexican prisoners of war."

A young socialist journalist informs London of the prisoner abuse and urges him to write about it in his dispatches back home. But London, also a socialist, isn't sure he wants to report it. Doing so would mean severing ties with his military contacts, so he initially tries to deny the veracity of the rumor.

"It's in his best interest for it not to be true," Tasca said. "His old idealism comes into conflict with his self-interest."

San Francisco writer John Levin originally wrote "Veracruz" during the first Gulf War, revising through the last decade. The Pear staff considered the play for an end-of-season premiere, but decided to wait until the 2004-2005 season to produce it.

"We had it in our minds that we really wanted to do it before the election," Tasca said.

Although Levin intended for the play to have similarities with current military actions, Forte said "Veracruz" is much more than a contemporary commentary.

"The parallels are striking, but it's not a play 'about' Iraq, seen through the lens of the incident at Veracruz," Forte said. "Yes, it was an invasion to protect our oil interests. And yes, there was a shocking abuse of Mexican prisoners of war. But these are superficial, albeit pretty amazing, coincidences."

Forte and Tasca said the play is equally as compelling for its action and character development. "Veracruz" provides audiences with a better understanding of the largely unknown historical event as well as the complex personalities of London and MacArthur, they added.

"You really feel like you have met Jack London, the famous American writer, and a young Douglas MacArthur poised to make history," Forte said. "It's quite a glimpse into the hearts and minds of these larger-than-life personalities."

Through its main characters and ending, "Veracruz" also encourages audiences to think about the complexities of power and war, regardless of the time period.

"Its timeliness lies in the unflinching examination of how we justify our actions with moral beliefs," Forte said, "how we do what we want to do and create the moral justification for it, whether as individuals or as a country."

E-mail Katie Vaughn at [email protected]


What: "Veracruz," presented by Pear Avenue Theatre and the Bootstrap Foundation

Where: Pear Avenue Theatre, 1220 Pear Ave., Unit. K, Mountain View

When: Sept. 17-Oct. 10

Cost: $10-$25

Call: 254-1148 or visit

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