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10.31.07

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Photograph by Carlos Velazquez
DANGER ZONE: Marilet Martinez (from upper left), Erika Pérez, Ryan Rusca and Gendell Hernandez endure hardships in 'Visitor's Guide.'

Unjust Desert

Immigrants struggle to survive in Teatro Visión's 'Visitor's Guide'

By Marianne Messina


TEATRO VISIÓN'S Visitor's Guide to Arivaca (Map Not to Scale) uses comic elements of the morality play—caricature and didactic overtones—as it portrays an Arizona town, focusing on the story of a young Mexican couple crossing the border through the desert. As Linda Sanchez (Erika Pérez) blithely decides to join her husband, Valente (Gendell Hernandez), on his dangerous desert border crossing, playwright Evangeline Ordáz makes her a caricature of innocence/naivety (apparently Linda's never heard about human traffickers). This "audience knows better" type of humor goes to the absurd when, after spending some time in the desert, Linda exclaims, "Valente, it's hot!"

Arivaca and its surrounding desert present an intriguing confluence of interests, motives and histories: John, the out-of-work Oklahoma father (Patrick Sieler), who joins the Border Guard; George the Native American tribesman (Andrew Roa), who risks exile from his Nation trying to avert deaths on the desert with water stations; Iris the border rancher (Patricia Silver) with a failing farm; Ana (Sarita Ocón), a pro-bono human-rights lawyer like the playwright herself. Time spent as a border-town lawyer gave Ordáz close-up experience with the lesser-known conflicts briefly sketched here, the legal catch-22s that make both compassion and need irrelevant.

But the script fails to fully exploit that advantage. Instead of tense, tricky situations complicated by character or rich characters buffeted about by a conflicted system, Ordáz has put generalized stances in the mouths of representative characters. And this is unfortunate for the high-caliber cast. A few manage to rise above type: Pérez gives us charm and humor as the peppy, feisty Linda; Silver's salty, down-to-earth Iris and Roa's brooding Native American crusader offer depth just waiting for lines worthy of it.

Also on the plus side, the show invests in high production values. A spectacular, open stage cast in burnt orange offers small zones for scenes other than the desert: the holding cell where rancher Iris is detained for bringing a near-death "illegal" to a hospital is a cot in front of a jagged-topped set of bars; Iris' home is a couch and cardboard refrigerator (quite humorous). Dominating all is the desert, a series of geometrically skewed platforms backgrounded by a cutout mountain and overhanging reflective sun/moon. The disorienting nature of the desert is reinforced as characters creep up the platform levels or round a serpentine, metallic tree to represent distances that are unpredictable and inconsistent.

Teatro Visión's earnest production also prioritizes clarity, painstakingly rendering Ordáz' bilingual text (with some interesting choices by translator VIVIS) and projecting it, along with scenic description, in a very readable superscript. The delightful surprise of this script is its humor, a very Mexican-flavored dark humor. Linda's glib chatter and optimism to Valente's "quiete," her poetry, stargazing, comparing herself and Valente to black holes in the way they have to be invisible on the desert. Though the play is not revelatory—if the topic intrigues you, stay home and surf it online—it's bright and funny with a bit of rah-rah for the converted.


VISITOR'S GUIDE TO ARIVACA (MAP NOT TO SCALE), a Teatro Visión bilingual production, plays Thursday–Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through Nov. 11 at the Mexican Heritage Plaza Theater, 1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $7–$45. (408.272.9926)


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