Delivering a new and far more literal meaning to the term, "underground cinema," La Mexicaine de Perforation has inspired intrigue and confusion since its public discovery in 2004. The elusive group has performed various acts of clandestine artistry throughout Paris, managing to set up an entire functioning film theatre in the abandoned caverns below the city's streets--only to remove any sign of its existence days after the discovery--and broke into the Pantheon multiple times without a trace--except for the old clock they restored.
The group, and their various escapades that continue to befuddle authorities, are the subject of a collaborative project by Calgary's Trepan Theatre and the United Kingdom's Aitherios Theatre. La Mexicaine de Perforation: a catacomb clown comedy plays on the artsy cave dwellers' infamous nature and the police's apparent inadequacies when attempting to pin down the pack. Co-creator and actor Rew Lowe says it is their oddball attitude and unpredictability that made La Mexicaine such an interesting subject for the theatre.
"I think they're an inherently theatrical group of people," he says. "There's a lot of puppeteering and slight of hand and magic with what they do in real life. These are tricks that we're trying to use in theatre as well. They also set themselves up as quite a powerful group, outside of the law."
In Lowe and his colleagues' version of the story, two Canadian backpackers get caught in the middle of the battle between the catacomb people and the police patrol, eventually becoming immersed in an underground circus of sorts, where La Mexicaine are the ringmasters. Though the inspiration for the play seemed dramatic enough for the stage, Lowe cautions that he and his fellow creators are not trying for a direct imitation of the situation.
"The research [we have done] has inspired us and is a starting point," he says. "We don't, for one minute, profess to be doing anything realistic at all. The play is totally ridiculous, and rightfully so. For example, La Mexicaine seem to be able to evade the police and that has given us a real chance to explore the notion of having completely incompetent police and sort of explore using clowns and idiots in that dimension."
Lowe also notes that their take of the story--including the traveling Canadians--allows for a great exploration of cultural clashes and idiosyncrasies, something that was familiar given the international nature of the collaboration.
"As soon as you start working in that kind of environment, immediately, you keep striking on the culture differences and some very fun and hilarious theatrical differences," he says. "What is it for two Canadians to jump into the world of Paris and what is the idea of this international group of artists to encounter Canadians? Where cultures hit each other can be a very good comedy."
Though the play has come together with few glitches, the real La Mexicaine have contacted the troupe, demonstrating their infamous sinister character.
"They left a message for the police [in the cinema cavern] saying, 'Do not try to find us,'" explains Lowe. "That can be translated as simply, 'do not try to find us' or, 'do not push your luck.' We've been in touch with them, which has been a curious experience in that they don't seem too pleased that we're basing our show around them. They feel they have the ownership of this name. It's been an interesting dialogue. There have been various cryptic messages coming towards us basically saying, 'You can't use our name or our history.'"
Despite the protests from La Mexicaine de Perforation, Lowe and his company are continuing on, telling the tale with their own brand of theatrical humour. Their version may even add to the allure and intrigue of the original group, inspiring more works based on the mysterious catacomb artists while transporting audiences from a Calgary stage to the underground caverns of Paris.
La Mexicaine de Perforation: a catacomb clown comedy runs at the Joyce Doolittle Theatre at Pumphouse Theatres June 3–7. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors.