A theatrical meditation on the harsh realities that face undocumented migrants and their families, “Amarillo” also features projections, throat singing, a surveillance camera, 100 water bottles, a 15-foot-high wall that actors climb and bounce off — and a poem by Harold Pinter.
The ensemble-generated production will strike a chord with Americans who are aware that U.S. immigration policies and politics continue to take a human toll, says Rebecca Medrano, GALA’s executive director. “People are still being deported,” she points out. Indeed, she adds, “in today’s world, where we’re shrinking boundaries because of the Internet and media, we’re still actually very tied to national boundaries.”
But “Amarillo” is more than a political piece, Medrano says; it’s also a burst of artistic daring. “There’s a lot of avant-garde work going on in Mexico,” she says. “People are not aware of that.”
Making it possible for GALA to acquaint local audiences with the Mexican avant-garde is a new funding program designed to introduce U.S. audiences to a neighboring region’s artists and perspectives. Southern Exposure: Performing Arts of Latin America, a program of the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, supports U.S. arts presenters that band together to bring Latin American performers to this country.
Among the beneficiaries of the program’s inaugural round of grants are a Brazilian maracatu music ensemble; a Colombian street theater that draws on butoh dance tradition; and Teatro Linea de Sombra, which is taking “Amarillo” to New York City, Seattle and rural New Jersey as well as D.C.
Directed by Teatro Linea de Sombra’s artistic director, Jorge A. Vargas, “Amarillo” evokes the experiences of men who set out for the U.S. border only to disappear during the dangerous journey. The six performers also channel the anguish of the men’s families, left behind to wait and wonder. (The performance is principally in Spanish, with English surtitles.) The script is by turns wrenchingly specific — it is based on documentary material, including company members’ interviews with migrants — and mysteriously poetic, segueing at one point into Pinter’s poem “Death,” an incantation of grim rhetorical questions (“Where was the dead body found? / Who found the dead body? / Was the dead body dead when found?”)
As the actors speak, a wall at the rear catches projections, including shots of a racing train (migrants sometimes hitch hazardous rides on the tops of Mexican trains) and missing-person posters. The actors also engage in stylized movement, some of it involving sand — symbolic of the desert terrain on the Mexico-U.S. border — or water bottles, which speak of the perils of dehydration.