Melinda Lopez on Juan of the Dead

Juan of the Dead is so much more than a zombie movie. It’s an insightful, hilarious and sharp commentary on Cuban society, and it draws upon the ‘creation myths’ of that nation to tell the classic story of an underdog who saves the world—in this case, the crumbling ruin of Havana.

Juan of the Dead draws on many historical elements to create a movie that deconstructs Cuban history, including the War of Independence, Castro’s Revolution, the ‘special period’ and the exodus at Mariel, as well as the complex relations with Spain and the United States. But the film does this without overt political dogma. It’s just a band of survivors, misfits and warriors, bound together in an end-of-the-world battle. And really, what is more Cuban than finding yourself in the middle of the end-of-the-world… and figuring out how to make money?

My play, Becoming Cuba uses a lot of these same tropes. Revolutionaries (1898) with machetes, reclaiming their land from the oppressor (in this case, the Spanish double as the un-dead). The play centers on the widow and pharmacist Adela, as the revolution against Spain finally reaches Havana. But Adela doesn’t want to choose a side, because it’s bad for business. Adela’s brother is fighting with the rebels, and a handsome American reporter, one of Hearst’s men, is there to write the headline. And yes, there is a Conquistador who roams the streets of Havana remembering Columbus and the good old days.

Both Juan and Adela are cut from the same cloth. They are smart, scrappy and practical survivors. They are Cubans; at their most vibrant when faced with impossible obstacles. And both of them make a stand against tyranny. I love my play. And I love the movie Juan of the Dead. It’s made by a Cuban filmmaker, and it has nothing to do with the 1959 revolution and subsequent story line of the immigrant experience. The roots of this story go way back. If you are new to the zombie epidemic, I hope you’ll give it a chance. It might grow on you.

- Melinda Lopez


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