Monkey Business Theatre

Monkey Business Theatre

Monkey Business Theatre

Monkey Business Theatre


In 1983, a group of citizens in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, formed Sna Jtz'ibajom, the Tzotzil-Tzeltal Maya writers' cooperative. In the two decades since, this group has evolved from writing and publishing bilingual booklets to writing and performing plays that have earned them national and international renown.

Anthropologist Robert M. Laughlin has been a part of the group since its beginnings, and he offers a unique perspective on its development as a Mayan cultural force. The Monkey Business Theatre, or Teatro Lo'il Maxil, as this branch of Sna Jtz'ibajom calls itself, has presented plays in virtually every corner of the state of Chiapas, as well as in Mexico City, Guatemala, Honduras, Canada, and in many museums and universities in the United States. It has presented to the world, for the first time in drama, a view of the culture of the Mayas of Chiapas.

In this work, Laughlin presents a translation of twelve of the plays created by Sna Jtz'ibajom, along with an introduction for each. Half of the plays are based on myths and half on the social, political, and economic problems that have confronted--and continue to confront--the Mayas of Chiapas.


Carter Wilson

For fifteen years, most of my opportunities to see the plays of the Monkey Business Theatre, Teatro Lo’il Maxil, have come about through the happy coincidence of being where the company was performing at the right moment. As a friend of cofounder Robert M. Laughlin and several of the original actors, I have always kept an eye on the performance’s effect on the spectators, whether the show is Torches for a New Dawn presented in the plaza of Zinacantán for Mayan schoolchildren or Rogelio Román Hernández Cruz’s The World Turned on Its Head acted before a glittery overflow crowd in the Salón Manuel Ponce at Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts.

At the Theatre’s San Cristóbal de las Casas headquarters in 2000, one select audience was made up of eight or nine North American indigenous artists— actors, dancers, poets, and a director—traveling together through southern Mexico to better acquaint themselves with Mayan culture, ancient and present-day. the room was not large, barely space enough for the backdrop curtain, the stage action, and some hard wooden chairs for the guests. the show Monkey Business presented that afternoon was When Corn Was Born, which features the fearsome red-coated Earth Lord, a scorpion, and a scad of scurrying ants played by finger puppets, plus kibbitzing and a helping hand for the poor humans of the piece from two of the ancient Mayan gods, portrayed by actors’ voices and huge puppet heads peering down from above the backdrop.

Several of the visitors had been trained in New York and were acquainted with the style of Ralph Lee, who had been coming annually to develop and stage a play with Monkey Business Theatre. in the discussion following the performance, the guests asked how much of what they had just seen was Ralph Lee and how much came out of the troupe’s own indigenous traditions.

At first, the actors did not answer. the question seemed to have generated some tension, as though the guests had reservations about what they had . . .

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