Citizen Staff Writer
It’s a lot easier to feel offended by illegal border crossers when we don’t know who they are. Once a face is attached to each of these undocumented newcomers, all bets are off.
This is the message delivered with a poignant hand in the Borderlands Theater production of “Our Dad is in Atlantis (Papá está en la Atlántida)” by Javier Malpica.
Cast are Rafael E. Martínez as Big Brother, with Bryant Ranier Enriquez as Little Brother. Both actors are young men playing preadolescent characters with wonderfully innocent personalities.
The siblings are practically orphans, living in an undesignated Mexican village. Their mother has died and their father has dumped them off with their grandmother while he heads into the United States sans visa to look for work.
The father does write to his sons, mailing letters from Atlanta. But Little Brother thinks Dad is writing from Atlantis. Far more disturbing to both boys, the letters don’t mention anything about Dad coming back home. Or sending for them. Or anything.
And there are the stories about their grandmother, whom they see as an ill-tempered sort given to using her cane to enforce her commands. We don’t really know if this ever happens, though the boys are certain it will happen.
Malpica has structured the play, presented without intermission, as 10 separate blackout scenes performed on a bare stage. A pair of large wooden boxes, each a couple feet tall, serve as chairs, beds, a store counter and other props.
The scenes are titled “Stuff about the countryside,” “Stuff about Mom,” “Stuff about Dad” and so on. In each scene, we learn a little more about the lives of these two lads. And, of course, in each scene, we come to care about them in a new way.
By the time we get to “Stuff about the gringos” and “Stuff about the desert” our hearts are in their hands.
As director, Eva Zorrilla Tessler amplifies this simplicity by emphasizing the open faith of these two lads. They trust their father. They trust their grandmother, too, even if they aren’t sure about that cane. Both actors keep their enthusiasm focused on each scene, using a minimum of the body language that is stereotypically identified with kids. That makes it easier to see each personality develop.
Big Brother can’t resist intimidating his younger sib all the time, but feels totally responsible and protective, too. Little Brother wins us over with his genuine belief that life will get better if they can just find their dad.
We, the adults sitting in the audience and feeling superior, are meant to also feel guilty about letting the politics and recriminations between these two countries get so out of hand. You could not move this play to Canada, set it on two parentless Canadian boys sneaking into the U.S. and have it make any sense.
Also making a major contribution is Roger Foreman, who gives each scene additional shape with imaginative soundscapes that include lots of familiar noises (cars, sirens, barking dogs, etc) as well as original music. The most interesting parts are when he goes electronic with abstract sounds that make you feel worried, happy, tense or sad without really knowing why.
It is not giving away anything to say none of the play takes place on the north side of the border. Additional stage effects imply the boys do get across, but – just like in real life – one can never be sure.
IF YOU GO
What: Borderlands Theater presents “Our Dad is in Atlantis (Papá está en la Atlántida)” by Javier Malpica, translated by Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas
When: in English, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and March 19 & 21, also 2 p.m. Sunday and March 22 • in Spanish 7:30 p.m. Thursday and March 20
Where: ArtFare, 55 N. Sixth Ave.
Price: $18.75 general admission, $17.75 seniors, $10.75 students
Info: 882-7406, www.borderlandstheater.org