Ruth Margraff had an experience with violence several years ago that illuminated what violence meant. "I got beat up by some kids," she recalls, "and as the blow was coming at me, I thought, 'oh, this is clear, this is what clarity means.' They wanted my purse. They wanted me to give up some kind of surplus that I had. It's kind of like a brawl," she continues. "Someone had an advantage and someone does not. Like a democracy." But are the results democratic? "Oh, no, no, that's the problem," she laughs. "It creates even more injustice."
Brawling and its results are the subject of Margraff's latest play, The Centaur Battle of San Jacinto: An Extended Barroom Brawl, directed by Donna Linderman, which will be opening at Dixon Place in May. Margraff and Linderman have been working on the play, originally a commission from the Salvage Vanguard Theatre in Austin, for the past few years, workshopping it at Brooklyn College and La MaMa. The result is a production, with original music, that both writer and director are extremely excited about.
"I'd read every single script [in a new play development project] and Ruth's was last," Linderman recollects. "It knocked my socks off. I was beside myself. I called up the person I was working with and said, 'This is the one.' The language is just so alive, poetic, funny, aggressive. It leapt off the page at me."
Centaur Battle deals with the true-life story of the Battle of San Jacinto--a revenge for the Alamo. The Americans slaughtered the Mexicans in revenge for killing Golden Boy Davy Crocket and--in a turn of events unbeknownst to most Americans (besides a few Texans)--one-third of the land in the United States changed hands. Mythic frontier figures such as Santa Anna, Sam Houston, and the Yellow Rose of Texas populate the bar in which the play takes place.
Margraff did extensive research on the commissioned subject, which was not unusual for her. "I bastardize a lot," she confesses, "I was faithful to this, though...It's hard with a commission because your heart swells up with things that occur to you naturally, and then you [have to] place it into the filter that's designed for you. But I let myself rebel because that's honest."