In Juan Mayorga’s Spanish language play La paz perpetua ( Eternal Peace), outstanding actors from the National Theater Company of Mexico portray a trio of dogs who compete for the position of an elite sniffer dog at an anti-terrorism agency.
The stage is barren except for three folding chairs, each of which represents a dog’s territory. The director, Mariana Giménez, wisely chooses to use a small section of the Carnival Studio Theater’s stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center. The close quarters intensify the sense of cutthroat competition between the dogs. Occasionally, actor Andres Weiss, the only human character in the play, enters the scene to execute a command or lead one of the dogs away on a leash. Weiss is always accompanied by Casius (Oscar Narvaez). Leaning on a crutch and wearing an eyepatch, Casius, a Labrador retriever, is a veteran sniffer charged with discerning the other dogs’ strengths and weaknesses.
La paz perpetua’s conceit is that men portray dogs that are, in turn, symbols of humanity. This could easily become gimmicky or even farcical if the actors took their roles too literally. The actors imbue a sense of “dogness.” They growl, sniff and drool. They lift their hind legs to mark their territory and snarl when one of their fellow canines trespasses. However, they avoid becoming caricatures by developing unique personalities.
Dressed in a black biker’s jacket, Enrique Arreol’s Odín is a surly, self-centered Rottweiler mix. He is the play’s cynic. Odín finds faults in others and tries to turn his enemies against one another in order to win.
Israel Islas plays the ferocious, alpha dog John-John, an artificially engineered mix of Doberman, boxer and pit bull who is all brawn and no brains. He has the power to destroy, but no common sense.
Marco García plays Emmanuel, a German Shepherd whose name is a reference to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. The play also takes its name from Kant’s notion of perpetual peace. García has the soulful brown eyes and contemplative nature of a philosopher, and as Casius tests the dogs to see how far they would go to fight terrorism, Emmanuel emerges as the play’s conscience.
Ultimately La paz perpetua is about human beings and what we are capable of. In the final surprise test, the three dogs are told there is a terrorism suspect at the end of the hall. They are asked if they would be willing to destroy the suspect based on the possibility of his guilt. This is the play’s relevant question: To what extent are abuses of power acceptable in the name of the defense of democracy? The play ends on an appropriately disquieting note, considering the complexity of its theme.
Mayorga’s dialogues are rich with meaty intellectual barbs; however, the text is at times verbose, which slows down the play’s momentum. Nevertheless, La paz perpetua is a fascinating look at the contemporary implications of the global war on terror.