Revisiting the Cantina: Drunk Lion Returns to Philadelphia
This Sunday Philadelphia-based writer and performer Chris Davis will remount his acclaimed solo show Drunk Lion at Tattooed Mom for a limited two night run, Sunday March 6 and Thursday March 10 [UPDATE: For those who missed it, two additional shows have been scheduled for April 12 and April 14!]. First staged back in 2012 as part of the experimental, solo performance-based SoLow Festival—which Davis serves as a coordinator for—it has since seen productions in New York, Connecticut, Louisiana, and, most recently, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival back in 2014, where a reviewer for TV Bomb gave it five stars (er, bombs), praising it as “imaginative, free-flowing story-telling of very high quality.”
In a way the play encapsulates Davis’ experiences living in the small town of Chiapas de Corzo, Mexico through the meeting of a Spanish deficient Davis and an intoxicated, sombrero-clad king of the beasts, as they converse and drink together in a cantina. Back in 2012 we interviewed Davis about the show just before its first performance. You can find that interview here. Considering the show’s success since and Davis’ continued development as one of this city’s most exciting and unpredictable solo performers, we decided to reach out again to get his current perspective on the play and learn a bit more about its background.
FringeArts: What spurred you to revive Drunk Lion?
Chris Davis: I love to revive shows. And Sunday, March 6th, is my birthday, so it’s a present to myself. Thursday, March 10th, is not my birthday, but Tattooed Mom’s offered me two shows and it’s my favorite bar in Philadelphia besides Quig’s.
FA: This was the first play you wrote and performed in. Back in 2012 you noted how you’d been avoiding combining those pursuits, but felt it was time to flip the script, so to speak, and merge the two. Since then you’ve toured two additional successful solo shows, Violence of the Lambs and Bortle 8. What about your experience with Drunk Lion encouraged you to keep exploring self-penned solo work?
CD: Drunk Lion started as a very difficult experience. I had no idea what I was doing. It was too long and I sweated profusely during the show. It gave me anxiety. But I kept doing it and each time I learned more about the play and what I was trying to say. Somewhere along the way I became comfortable with the idea of being a ‘solo-performer.’ I like solo-work for concrete reasons: the autonomy it gives me, the flexibility of schedules, and the ability to travel. There are many abstract reasons, too many really. Ultimately, I love to entertain.
FA: Over the course of the show you are charged with the difficult task of distinctly embodying dozens of unique characters. Having performed this show several times over the last four years, have the rhythms and speech patterns of each begun to flow more naturally, instinctively into each other or does the challenge persist?
CD: Yes it does flow, and yes the challenge still persists. I’ve performed Drunk Lion close to a hundred times, but each time I do it I am reminded that it is a very difficult, and demanding show. I always think it will be easy and it never is.
FA: This show is rooted in your experiences living in Chiapas de Corzo, Mexico. Can you touch on how your time there informed this show and continues to inform your work?
CD: When I moved to Mexico I did not speak any Spanish, so my first year in Chiapas was full of confusion and many adventures. I met a lot of ‘Drunk Lions’ when I went to cantinas to drink caguamas and practice my broken Spanish. For me ‘Drunk Lion’ symbolizes the stereotypical ‘macho’ male in Mexico. A ‘Drunk Lion’ can be both ferocious and pathetic at the same time. It’s a paradox that I found captivating and terrifying.
‘Drunk Lions’ gravitated towards me because I was a foreigner and they love to talk to anyone. Although half of the time I had no idea what they were saying, we somehow had these lengthy conversations about love, life, and women. I grew up without a strong male role model in my life, and Chiapas, for better or worse, gave me an example of a particular kind of one. I was raised by a single mother and self-identify as a feminist, so I naturally looked down upon a lot of aspects of ‘machismo’ that I encountered; but it became a part of me any way. By the end of my time in Mexico I felt stuck between these two conflicting worlds. This conflict is at the heart of the play Drunk Lion. How do we reconcile two parts of ourselves that are opposing forces? My short answer is we don’t, we bounce back and forth between each, become unhinged and start doing solo-shows to deal with our latent issues. And my other answer is that we do reconcile them, because we have no other choice and it happens naturally anyway. So even my answer to the question itself is conflicted. Chiapa de Corzo is a small town that is incredibly hot and full of hard-working people. I think they would love this show because it captures something that is very difficult to describe, but many people live.
Drunk Lion is presented at Tattooed Mom (530 South St.) April 12th and 14th at 8pm.
Purchase tickets here: drunkliontmoms.brownpapertickets.com
Suggested donation: $10-$20
Facebook event: facebook.com/events/532125123625084