Theater Review: NOWHERE ON THE BORDER (Road Theatre Company in North Hollywood)

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by Marc Wheeler on January 21, 2020

in Theater-Los Angeles


In an effort to spark dialogue on Trump-era immigration, The Road Theatre Company has mounted a revised version of Carlos Lacámara’s Nowhere on the Border, a play that premiered at The Hayworth Theatre in 2006 during the presidency of George W. Bush. While this partially-rewritten work is a testament to how little has changed since a Republican last occupied the White House, it offers little to the immediate conversation.

Set mainly is the vast desert straddling Arizona and Mexico, Nowhere follows Gary (Chet Grissom, alternating with Lance Guest), a border patrol volunteer who discovers Roberto (Jonathan Nichols, alternating with playwright Lacámara), a Mexican man who claims to be looking for his missing daughter Pilar (Natalie Llerena, alternating with Gabriela Fernandez). Pilar, in an effort to reunite with her husband, has set about navigating the treacherous terrain between despair and hope. The play alternates between the two men at the border and Pilar’s journey through it, offering a glimpse into the lives of those for whom immigration is not a political talking point but a vivid reality.

Despite the playwright’s attempt at personalizing immigration, Nowhere’s two leading characters are stock. Even layers, when they exist, are foreseeable. The American is a red-blooded patriot decked head-to-toe in army fatigue surveying ‘Murica’s hot desert for “illegals” — a mission the financially-strapped family man will gladly accept without pay. Meanwhile, the Mexican is a sympathetic father not out to cause any trouble. The set-up is everything one would expect from a simplistic “issue play” and the story unfolds just as predictably. The gun-toting American isn’t as hard as his exterior suggests: only by putting a pitying face to his fears does the bravado fall away, revealing a common humanity that exists between the two men.

Nowhere on the Border offers theatergoers a gentle, semi-heart-tugging reminder of the people and struggles behind the headlines. It likely preaches to the choir. It doesn’t challenge or offer uncomfortable truths, complex characters, or even a unique perspective. It has nothing new to say. While some people are more than happy to bathe in a warm tub of previously established beliefs, others need more compelling reasons to enter a theater.

That said, the play is not nearly as emotionally satisfying as its subject matter might suggest. During one of the play’s most dramatic points, not only does the playwright, Lacámara, fumble the moment up to which he’d built, director Stewart J. Zully stages it in such a way that misdirects our attention even more, weakening the play’s overall impact.

Fortunately, not all is lost. As Roberto, Nichols brings a visible determination-amid-desperation to the emotionally frazzled father. As Gary, Grissom knows when to explode with knee-jerk reactions and when to let down his guard and reveal the realities behind the fear-based wall he’s erected. Diana DeLaCruz as Montoya, the coyote who transports travelers from Mexico to the U.S., plays the role with an edgy charm, offering both humor and a palpable desolation as depleted as the land she roams. Providing soothing, periodic instrumentation, guitarist Mackenzie Redvers Bryce (seated onstage for the play’s entirety) grounds us in time and place. On a less effective note, Llerena as the desert-wandering wife and Roberto’s missing daughter, Pilar, too often overplays her character’s emotions — her affected cries reiterate a plea for sympathy that’s already been granted by circumstance.

Paul Dufresne’s set design is a gorgeous depiction of the mountainous desert — from its sandy earth to its colored skies — lit radiantly in sundown-to-sunrise motifs by Derrick McDaniel. Nicholas Santiago’s projections are a jarring juxtaposition of modern technology and the natural world. Meanwhile, Mary Jane Miller’s costumes make crystal clear the seemingly opposing nature of the play’s leading players: camo vs. sombrero.

Ironically, if Nowhere on the Border is successful, it’s not in how original it is; it’s in how original it isn’t. Its story, sadly, isn’t particularly unique. But it does both mirror and bring to life the commonplace afflictions of everyday people for whom this reality is ever-pressing: poverty and violence leading them to take desperate measures to survive and, if they’re fortunate, live a life of dignity. To these complex realities this lesser work points, and upon these circumstances theatergoers may meditate. It is in these larger truths that we’re quenched while traversing Nowhere’s all-too-barren desert.

photos by Brian M. Cole

Nowhere on the Border
The Road Theatre Company
Road Theatre at the NoHo Senior Arts Colony
10747 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on March 8, 2020
for tickets and alternate cast info, call 818.761.8838 or visit Road Theatre

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