La Jolla---Producing artistic director William Virchis, long time theatre figure in San Diego (at least 30 years), and his company Teatro Mascara Magica have landed a slot at the La Jolla Theatre’s ‘resident theatre company’ program for this coming 2013-2014 season. Initiating the season is Josefina Lopez’ “Detained in the Desert”, a doomed from the start road trip for Sandra and Matt who are traveling from AZ to California where anything that can go wrong, does.
Lopez is best known for her “Real Women Have Curves”, her first full length play that some will remember was mounted at The San Diego Repertory Theatre in the early 90’s when she was still in her teens. Today her many voices speak out for immigration reform and against the injustice and hypocrisy of our present day immigration policies while working within the limits and boundaries to that end as far as her art will take her.
While introducing “Detained in the Desert” artistic director William Virchis called it a ‘conversation play’. So let the conversations begin with a trip through the Sonora Desert in AZ to the towns in California.
But before that, a back story with the hateful and race bating radio talk show host, Lou Becker (Charles Maze) who, not unlike many of today's talk show hosts spew the rhetoric of panic and mayhem through lies and hysteria to make a point about illegal’s.
Lou’s broadcast, KRTZ 1070 ‘Take Back America’ is specifically geared to those who will go to any lengths to kill anyone not looking like them or better yet, who wear badges that allow ‘racial profiling’.
In the context of the conversation, we are introduced to opposing views that come together in the desert where the lessons of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” never seem to apply. For most in Lopez’ story, few got the memo based on the 17 or so characters we are introduced to.
The first images we see are the skeletons of the past migrants that have perished trying to cross the border illegally. They roam the desert and show up in almost every scene. Border Angel Enrique Martinez (Dave Rivas is perfect in this role) is another angel that shows up putting gallons of water out in strategic places. They (in real life) leave water jugs out for those on their way across the desert. (The Border Angels were a strong presence on opening night.)
Then there is a representation of a Minuteman (Steven Jensen) dressed in fatigues. He listens to KRTZ on his portable radio and has already killed several men crossing. As soon as the Border Angels leave the jugs of water out, he and his ilk shoots them full of holes.
When Sandra (sassy Alix Mendoza) native born American and her college squeeze, Matt (Victor Santander) a Canadian by birth and without a legal Visa are stopped by a border patrol agent (who insists on seeing Sandra’s papers because she looks Mexican), she refuses to be bullied and with no leg to stand on except her word, is hauled off and detained. Matt who is ‘white but without legal documents is never questioned, and he’s not about to get involved.
But the irony comes when Lou is captured and dragged off into the desert by relatives of one shot by the self appointed minuteman spurned on by the vitriol spewed on Lou’s talk radio. Lou is baffled by the assault but frightened to the core of what the end result might be if these vigilantes, left to their devices kill him in a revenge turn. He is tortured, humiliated and left to dry out in the desert where he meets up with Sandra where the two have to now, help each other in order to survive.
Ms. Lopez paints a pretty accurate picture in each of the several scenario's showing various encounters migrants are faced with, as directed with expert hands by Virchis. One has to wonder, however if she’s not preaching to the choir. If, as Virchis stated, the play is a conversation piece then all sides must come to the table and, “Discuss”. Only time will tell the progress made after seeing 'Detained'.
In an after show chat Ms. Lopez shared that she was inspired to write this piece after working with the Border Angels, a volunteer group that has been criticized for its humanitarian work in providing nourishment to those intent on 'breaking the laws' of illegal entry into the US borders. But it’s difficult to overlook the fact that there are about 10000 dead scattered throughout the desert with markers for only 700.
It's a worthy show bringing all aspects of the plight of the migrant worker to the fore in hopes that all sides might get a fair airing.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Sept. 15th
Organization: Teatro Mascara Magica
Production Type: Drama
Where: La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive
Ticket Prices: $25.00
Venue: Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre on UCSD Campus