At the Yard at Chicago Shakespeare
By Dan Zeff
Chicago—The Chicago Shakespeare Theater is presenting its first extended show at the CST’s much anticipated new playing space on Navy Pier called The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare. The production is “Amarillo,” a multi-media work by Mexico’s Teatro Linea de Sombra, brought in as part of the current Chicago International Latino Theater Festival.
“Amarillo” harnesses video, projections, film, supertitles (English translations of the mostly Spanish dialogue), and lighting and sound effects to portray the plight of Latinos who attempt to travel from their impoverished and unstable native countries to the United States, seeking a new life “American style.”
The 65-minute production tells a familiar story of Latinos, mostly men, who try to weave their way through the thugs and swindlers who promise them a new and better existence up north. For too many of the would-be immigrants their search ends in death by dehydration in the deserts of the American Southwest, victims of cruel exploitation by the Mexico government and the “coyotes” who promise to smuggle the people across the border.
The story focuses on Pedro, who represents the Everyman from Latin America who leaves his family and home and culture in the wild hope he can reach the Promised Land up north, specifically the Texas city of Amarillo. We know early in the show that Pedro dies in the desert but he remains the focal point of the sometimes elusive narrative.
“Amarillo” is not explicitly a call to arms. The work doesn’t raise its voice–no soapbox cries for sympathy or justice for the Latinos struggling to enter the USA. No accusing fingers are pointed in anger at the American government for not opening country’s borders, though it’s an undercurrent that accumulates after seeing and hearing all the miseries the travelers endure on their quest. The travelers’ mood is more resignation and acceptance born of hopelessness and desperation. And yet there is a kind of steadfast heroism in the risks the Latinos accept to find a better life, even though the odds are fearfully against them, and they know it.
The story is told through two men and four women, unidentified by name, except for Pedro. There is singing and dancing and choreographed movement, along with the multitude of visual effects. Indeed, I found the production more absorbing for its staging and design than for its scandalous and heartbreaking subject matter. Early in the show a large number of plastic jugs filled with water are brought on stage. Toward the end, transparent bags of sand are hoisted by cables and then emptied onto the stage. The dual water and sand symbols underscore the hazardous route into the desert, where water holds the key to survival over the endless sand.
The six-member cast of two men (Raul Mendoza and Jesus Cuevas) and four women (Alicia Laguna, Maria Luna, Viany Salinas, and Antigona Gonzalez) are athletic and expressive in their body movements. The women represent the families left behind when the men depart for the north, very often never to return. The ensemble acts on a blank stage in front of a high rough blank wall that represents the barriers to America the travelers confront and also serves as a giant multi media screen that transcribes the struggles of the men walking north, sometimes 50 miles in a day.
“Amarillo” can be complimented on telling a story of immense immediacy in this country as well as in Latin America. The refusal to appeal to the audience’s emotions through melodrama is laudable. But the lack of a narrative core is a problem. The tone is so low-keyed that the viewer’s attention is liable to wander or primarily concentrate on the supertitles above the stage, so that spectators are “reading” the dialogue more than they are involving themselves in the story.
The Yard in its “Amarillo” configuration isn’t particularly exciting, with its absence of scenery except for a few props. We await a production that trots out more of the The Yard’s technical capabilities. That production showcase may come starting April 25 when The Yard will be the site of a revival of “Macbeth” with an emphasis on the tragedy’s supernatural elements. That suggests wondrous special effects under the supervision of Aaron Posner and Teller (of the famous magic team of Penn and Teller).
“Amarillo” runs through October 29 at The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare on Navy Pier. Most performances are Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 to $48. Call 312 595 5600 or visit www.chicagoshakes.com.
The show gets a rating of
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