Tacubaya (2021)

Traditional Mexican bullfight, 19th century

Isaiah 2:4 tells us

“He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.”

War and national conflict are as old as the ancient prophecies themselves. This verse inspired our writing team, led by Meredith Goff and Justin Crawford, to reflect on Isaiah’s profound words as they resonate with a tense moment in history. In the late 1840s, a young Army lieutenant named Ulysses Grant served among a host of American military commanders in the invasion of Mexico. The causes and effects of the Mexican-American War count as some of the most complex and impactful, for two large nations sharing a long coast-to-coast border clashed.

Ulysses Grant wrote his memoirs as he died in the 1880s, with the help of Mark Twain. From Grant’s memories we find references to a mysterious period after the main fighting in the Mexican American War ceased. Grant was placed in charge of logistics for a city called Tacubaya, just beside Mexico City. The ceasefire and peace treaty were technically agreed among the military leaders on the ground in Mexico, but Grant had to keep order in Tacubaya during months of waiting while Congress slowly debated whether or not to ratify the treaty.

Isaiah’s famous words give power and glory to God to settle battles between nations. According to his prophecies, human beings must, at some point, turn from warmaking to the arts of peace, from swords to ploughshares. And God will decide fortunes between nations. For Ulysses Grant, this imperative can hardly come easily. Justin Crawford, creative writer for Tacubaya, combined historical research and Biblical scholarship to weave a fictional story full of intrigue, spiritual crisis, conflict, and love.

The city of Tacubaya was famous for its bullfights, cabarets, artists, and gambling dens. After the fighting ceased, the conditions of war continued as shortages of bread, desertion by American Catholics, and Grant’s moral outrage over Tacubaya’s lifestyle all caused people in the city to clash.

We have, in the play, the character of Francisco, a manly and devout Mexican who wants to defend the honor of his country. Rosa, his childhood friend, has studied in a conservatory in the United States and now lives as a chanteuse in Tacubaya, where she finds herself in a fraught romance with Juan, the poet who knows English and works as Grant’s translator.

Grant must contend with the resistance to his presence as an occupier from proud Mexicans who have internal rivalries among themselves. Grant must also deal with the dissatisfaction from Irish Catholics like Niall and Shane. Like many Irish immigrants drafted into the war in the 1840s, they find the Catholic Mexicans appealing and even more sympathetic to them. Many desert or plan mutinies. Meanwhile, Malachi Stevenson, the chaplain working closely with Grant, finds himself falling in love with Ana, a tender-hearted nun who has come with her sisters to Mexico City to tend to the injured, sick, and hungry.

Waiting, waiting, and waiting for word that the US Congress will ratify the peace treaty, this tense cast of characters struggles to keep order. The card games, night concerts, and bullfights offer a thin façade of entertainment, behind which hides the tug-of-war between swords and ploughshares.

Tacubaya will be cast in late 2019, with plans to be premiered in 2021.