Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
September 6, 2013
It’s great that, every year, the La Jolla Playhouse gives a theatrical home to a nomadic theater company. This time, it’s Teatro Máscara Mágica , which has been around for two decades, though it mainly produces around the holidays.
It’s wonderful for the Playhouse to reach out once again to the Latino community. It’s an excellent opportunity for a struggling troupe. But this effort would be more satisfying if the play and the production were a closer match for the Tony Award-winning theater’s sensibility and professionalism.
Los Angeles-based activist/playwright Josefina Lopez got her professional start in San Diego, when her first play, written as a teen, was produced by the Playwrights Project. She went on to acclaim, writing “Real Women Have Curves,” and other works for stage and screen.
“Detained in the Desert” was written in 2010 in response to SB 1070 in Arizona, the most stringent anti-immigration bill in recent U.S. history. The play was also inspired by the playwright’s meetup with Enrique Morones , founder of the Border Angels.
It’s a populist, agit -prop piece, big and broad, wearing its politics on its sleeve. There’s little subtlety or sophistication. The only nuanced character is Sandra Sanchez — nicely played by Alix Mendoza – an American-born Latina, who doesn’t know Spanish and is hellbent on assimilation. Her boyfriend, however, is an illegal – from Canada.
When their car is stopped by police in the middle of the Arizona desert, she’s taken into custody, a victim of state-sanctioned racial profiling. She refuses to show any ID, because she’s a citizen, and objects to this whole racist process. So she remains in jail, until one dark night, when she escapes from a deportation bus. Once again lost in the desert, she comes upon another starving soul, this one beaten and abused. He’s a smarmy, one-note, hate-filled anti-immigration talk-show host — well played by Charles Maze — who’s been kidnapped by a trio of vengeful Mexicans, blaming him for the desert demise of their family members.
Death always hovers, in the form of a ghost and a pair of silent, skulking skeletons. The savior of the stranded, mismatched twosome is Enrique Martinez, in an unpretentious performance by Dan Rivas, whose character is closely based on the real Enrique. He and his Border Angels strategically place large plastic water bottles around the parched landscape, hoping to save a few lives.
Ten thousand have already died trying to cross, we’re told – a horrific statistic that works out to about two deaths per day.
Despite admirable intentions, and creative talent like director Bill Virchis and scenic designer John Iacovelli , the production feels unrefined and unsophisticated. The politics are ham-fisted; the tone and the acting are uneven. You might need to look beyond the medium to get the message.
Máscara Mágica’s “DETAINED IN THE DESERT” runs through September 15 in the Shank Theatre on the campus of UCSD.
©2013 PAT LAUNER