3 Stars out of 4
I will begin by saying that performance art collage theatrical work is not everyone’s cup of tea. And not everyone loves going to a night of theatre to be smashed across the head with the day’s tragic news. As you come into the new Yard Theatre at Navy Pier to experience Teatro Linea De Sombra’s Amarillo, you are face to face with Trump’s Wall. This devised work, directed by Jorge A. Vargas who studied with Theater of the Poor originator Jerzy Grotowski, is meant to tell the plight of those whose voices we do not hear.
The hour long work begins with a man in a hoodie with a plastic jug crouched at the bottom of the wall. Live video feed displays ,created by performer Raúl Mendoza, show on one side pictures of missing migrants being hung up on shelving units, and on the other side, a woman bagging up personal effects of John and Jane Doe’s. The juxtaposition of the images leads you to believe that the missing end up neatly folded effects on metal shelves in a government basement. The voice over is a subtitled pastiche of truncated dreams, bits of stories, migrants hoping for a better life. Amarillo Texas, US, becomes a mythical destination, and a tragic endpoint, as migrants become lost in the desert. There is footage of the Beast, a train than leads North, and the hand holds on the wall become the side of a freight train fueled by hope, as well as symbols of a dangerous trip into the unknown. There is a movement sequence repeated with such precision it becomes a kind of symbolic sign language for this piece. There is polytonal vocal droning like Tuvan throat singing as the base of the soundscore created and performed by Jesús Cuevas. There are snatches of monologues about Coyotes, the people who smuggle other people into the United States. There is a beautiful installation that forms a sculpture of plastic water bottles, lit like moons from within by the beams of cheap spotlights, throw away objects that become more precious than diamonds in the desert. There is a very detailed description of what it feels like to suffer and most probably die of dehydration. The video projections flicker from side to overhead views. There is a a dance with pretty dresses and a heart shaped piñata filled with sand that drains, and there is a disgusting video game where players shoot pregnant immigrants and their children in the sand.. There is a stage occupying hanging sculpture of sandbags that leak sand like hour glasses and make a rushing sound like water; the cruelty of the desert in metaphor. There is a film of Google maps to show the vastness of the openland around Amarillo, and there is a bizarre plug for Cadillac Ranch, the tourist attraction of semi buried auto bodies on the outskirts of town.
This is a hard work to witness, because it is based on a true and horrible story which they fit onto a stage. It is a piece of theatre that was created long before the current daily anti immigrant media overload, but it is a story as old as time, while being so current as to feel ripped from the front page of the paper. There are real people behind each statistic,but we never hear each individuals tale, and many times those who love the missing never find closure as to why they never come home. The story becomes the tale of a generation of a people, and it is harder to feel the tragedy when it is not specific.
The story of Amarillo is also a story of Chicago, where in certain neighborhoods, the entire male population of a village may be found, working to take care of families left behind south of the border. Chicago is a global city heavily influenced by the rich culture of Mexico, so it is a gift that we are able to see contemporary theatre from south of the border without the expense of traveling.
The piece struggles to find catharsis, and the pacing layers images, sound and movement in a steady stream, lacking a driving rhythm, or a crescendo, which leaves the audience perhaps numb at the end. The subtitles pull our eye away from the complicated visuals below. The story is not linear—it is a collage. It portrays the situation of these people, but leaves no hope or transformation at the end. It states simply: this is what is. I believe in stating this, in bringing this message to the stage, Amarillo calls on us to act, but it was not clear in its ask, so I left the theatre simply feeling terribly sad. This is a story that must be told, and we must bear witness to this tragedy but we must also ACT to change it. The call to action is faintly only whispered—I felt more the demand to be outraged. I would have likedto have been asked to do more than commiserate and be aware. Being woke is not enough if you don’t do something about it.
Amarillo is a Worlds Stage Production from Mexico and the largest theatrical event of the inaugural Chicago International Latino Theatre Festival- Destinos, and is only running at theChicago Shakespeare Theatre’s Yard on Navy Pier until October 29th.For tickets and information go to www.ChicagoShakes.com or call 312-596-5600.