A Bilingual Sci-Fi Latino Noir Performance
You don’t have to be a Trekkie to understand the Latino sci-fi part. An adroit performer and lucid writer, Jose Torres-Tama bravely takes us to the dark side where most dare not go.
What is applaudable about Torres-Tama’s compelling one-man-show is the way he goes for the jugular in his narrative and doesn’t pull punches. He puts a human face on under-reported stories, including the recent hate crimes in the U.S. against illegal immigrants, the noir part of this Latino Noir piece.
Torres-Tama, wearing an eerie, startling white mask, with ALIEN plastered on his forehead like a concentration camp tattoo, enters shouldering a red cross with American one dollar bills dangling from it. He mimes creeping and crawling, scraping and humbling himself before us. The piped-in soprano voice of his wife, Claudia Copeland, singing a soul-searing, a cappella rendition of a 13th century Ave Maria, puts us in a cathedral-like setting. The yellow-dark blue and red flag of Ecuador hangs on the other side of the stage. At a climax, Torres-Tama reaches out to us with one white-gloved hand, a supplicant gesture, as if paradoxically begging and giving.
As an Ecuadoran immigrant, who arrived here at age seven, Torres-Tama tells his tales based on interviews he conducted in April 2010. It is real life that’s surreal—at moments horrific. One of the most chilling passages appears projected on an upstage drop-screen: “Latino Hate Crimes Rise for the 4th Year,” encapsulating the rage against undocumented workers. The practice of “beaner hopping,” for example, is a racial slur yelled out against victims called “beaners” in attacks against Mexican Latinos, who are perceived of as “jumping beans” who leap across the border.
Here’s the way it’s supposed to be, Torres-Tama tells us. We all know the promise of hope and freedom that is emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal: “Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/” (from the 1883 Emma Lazarus sonnet).
Here’s the way it is. “I am here because you are there.” Among many ordeals retold, Torres-Tama dives deep when he addresses a sacred and universal need that dates back to Greek tragedy—the quest for a father. Wrapped in a black shawl with butterfly design, he impersonates a Honduran woman who crosses borders illegally to be reunited with her displaced father who left to escape the Meso-American Civil War in the 1980s. For eight years, her father sent money back to Honduras from the U.S. But this woman, who would have preferred to have her father there for all her birthdays, is now “proud to be an illegal,” because she can see her father.
It’s as if Torres-Tama speaks for this and every illegal immigrant when he repeats that statement: I am here because you are there.” One of the most powerful and memorable theatrical audience interactions occurs during his impassioned testimonial and supports that statement. He holds up a mirror, crosses over the proscenium arch and reflects us seated in the audience. Time and again in the 20th century and continuing into the 21st , the U.S. has funded, supported and empowered a tyrannical dictator. The narrator reminds us in his monologue that the Nicaraguan freedom fighters, Sandinistas, were named after the rebel leader against U.S. military occupation, Sandino. Relating Central American involvement in the 1980s to Mubarak’s unpopular 30 year Egyptian rule also hits home.
In this monologue that is bi-lingual and loosely constructed, Torres-Tama, with impassioned reverence, adroitly edges away from political policy, yet brings into the open the underreported stories of a shadowy war already in full force. At one point he draws upon a volunteer from the audience to translate the horrific Mexican border kidnapping story about a pregnant woman coldly shot in the head because she couldn’t provide American phone numbers for ransom money.
This emotional ride is balanced, however. A compassionate surgeon, “the man with kind eyes,” an empathetic African-American, a chief surgeon, reconstructs a 19-year old immigrant’s hand, a few months after a dumpster catches his hand along with the garbage. This act of kindness contradicts the cold indifference of the contractor who never called the ambulance or contacted the injured worker, we are told. There’s no respect for the minimum wage or protective work safety laws in the twilight zone of the aliens.
Scenes flow smoothly with spot-on technical changes by lighting designer Klyph Stanford and John Grimsley in collaboration with Bruce France’s video shorts.
GALA as part of its 35th seasons fulfills its mission by bringing not only Golden Age classical masterworks, but also contemporary and experimental plays to the Tivoli stage. The too-brief run of this two-performance experimental work should be revived and extended because of its quality and message.
Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evildoers closed March 5, 2011.
Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evildoers
A Bilingual Sci-Fi Latino Noir Performance
Written and directed by Jose Torres-Tama
Produced by GALA Theatre at Tivoli Square
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy