Go Deeper

Philly Fringe is: Swine Flu and Lions

Posted September 7th, 2011

The swine flu. Singing birds. A lion. A snuff film. Drug babies and animal noses. Chris Davis’s Lion (El Leon) opening on September 7 as part of the Fringe Festival is as absurd as absurdist plays go. But when you talk to Chris, it all starts to well, make sense.

Chris developed swine flu while living in Mexico. “Remember the swine flu?” Chris asked. “While people in the United States were freaking out about it,” Chris said. “It was just something else going on to those in Mexico.” The flu got Chris started thinking about epidemics.

Chris went exploring and found a snuff film being played in a different part of town. “It wasn’t a great neighborhood,” Chris said. “The movie was out in public for everyone to see. And that’s what I like about Mexico. It’s this decrepit place where terrible things happen all the time and to the people that live there, it’s just life. That’s how it is. There’s a beauty in that.”

After the jump, the lion emerges.

When he returned to the United States, Chris started writing Lion (El Leon), a play about a man living in Mexico during an epidemic breakout where humans, when affected, grow animal noses. The man, who is bilingual, is visited by a friend who speaks only English. The friend, of course, is freaked out. A Greek chorus of birds sings in Spanish to help move the action along, but the real humor comes from the translations that occur since the play is both in English and Spanish.

“I know my audience,” Chris explains. “I always knew I was writing for an English-speaking audience. But the translation adds the humor to the play and the audience is supposed to feel for the English-speaking tourist who doesn’t understand Spanish. That’s who I hope they should relate to and follow through the story.”

He assured that even if they’ve never been a stranger in a strange land, audiences can still relate to the show.

“There’s a bigger story,” Chris says. “There’s a human element involved. But it also is great for people who are in their late twenties and early thirties, or anyone really, who is trying to make sense of the world.”

“I always wondered,” continues Chris. “Why people write plays in just one language. Playwrights write in English. Or they write in Spanish. Or they write in French. With today’s globalization and the direction of the world getting smaller, I hope playwrights think about writing for everyone in every language.”

Chris mentioned both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Greek choruses as influences, but said a wide range of other works have affected his own.

“Not just classic pieces,” he says. “Anything and everything. Prelude to a Kiss, Amores perros, which is one of my favorite Mexican films. I said I wanted the drug lords to enter in Lion like Samuel Jackson in the beginning of Pulp Fiction. The lion even follows the character in the play just like the crocodile follows Captain Hook. I was reading Peter Pan when I was writing the show.”

Lion (El Lion) runs tonight through September 12, and September 16 and 17, at the Second Stage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Rittenhouse Square. Times vary, $15.

–Jennifer Leah Peck