Medellin Cartel pilot inspires Fringe Arts shows
The mystery and conspiracies surrounding the life and death of Barry Seal, the drug smuggler and aircraft pilot who flew flights for the Medellin Cartel in the 80s, inspired theatre artists Thaddeus Phillips to produce a hybrid between a play, concert and installation performance, in collaboration with DJ Mario Cotto and installation artist Jeff Becker.
“The Incredibly Dangerous Astonishing Lucrative and Potentially True Adventures of Barry Seal” took place last weekend at Fringe Arts. If you missed it, Phillips already has another show in the works, also based on Seal, which will have its world premiere at the 2015 Fringe Festival this September.
Phillips is no stranger to Seal. He’s been playing him, or rather his alias, Ellis MacKenzie, on the MundoFox show “Alias El Mexicano,” about José Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, a Colombian drug lord who was one of the leaders of the Medellin Cartel along with the Pablo Escobar and the Ochoa brothers.
Seal began his career as TWA’s youngest pilot and later ran arms to Cuba with the CIA, set up extensive smuggling routes for the Medellin Cartel, and arranged a sting operation in the Iran-Contra scandal — the political scandal during the Reagan Administration in which senior administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to Iran, which was the subject of an arms embargo.
“The Incredibly Dangerous…. Adventures of Barry Seal” is based on the last few weeks of life of Seal. He was about to take down Pablo Escobar before he was assassinated in his Fleetwood Cadillac in front of a Salvation Army halfway house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1986.
“The news reports are conflicting and they’ve changed after they first came out. The research we’ve done contradicts itself,” Phillips said. “Some people say he was involved in really crazy nefarious things, some say he wasn’t, he just wanted to be, so he made up stuff”.
Among the potentially true stories of Seal, there is a sting against the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua. Seal took a picture of the Sandinistas loading cocaine on a plane with Pablo Escobar, which the Reagan administration used to try to start a war against them.
“Later on it turned out that the main Sandinista contact was working for the U.S. Embassy in Managua, which meant that whole thing was probably a set up,” Phillips said.
Then there are other conspiracy stories involving Seal with some of the highest powers of the United States.
“Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas when Seal was landing his airplanes and laundering all the money there,” Phillips said. “Barry Seal claimed to have made a videotape of George W. Bush and Jeb Bush unloading cocaine of a plane in Ft. Lauderdale when George H.W. Bush was vice president.”
According to Phillips, “The Incredibly Dangerous…. Adventures of Barry Seal” is a cinematic stage project written as a screenplay. It is also an epilogue to the second show that Phillips will be presenting in September, “Alias Ellis MacKenzie.”
“The first show feels like a movie, the second show is going to look like we are filming that movie,” Phillips said.
For the second show, Phillips will be collaborating with some local and fellow actors with whom he shares the screen in “Alias El Mexicano” and Netflix’s “Narcos” (about Pablo Escobar) slated to debut later this summer. Among them are Juan Sebastián Calero, Victor Rodriguez, and Diana Calderon.
“They are going to be playing a Mexican, French, Colombian, and American film crew,” Phillips said. “We all have a lot experience with crazy international film crews and all the confusions in that.”
Phillips’ previous Fringe Arts presentations include “17 Border Crossings,” “Red-Eye to Havre de Grace,” “Whale Optics,” and “¡El Conquistador!”