Breaking News

Review: In ‘17 Border Crossings,’ Some Areas Are Left Unexplored

Category: Art & Culture,Theater

The only character in Thaddeus Phillips’s “17 Border Crossings” at New York Theater Workshop is referred to merely as the Passenger. And like the subject of the Iggy Pop song bearing that title, he rides and he rides — buses, cabs, ferries, trains, planes.

The Passenger is not a mere commuter, either: His trips cover multiple lands over several continents; one involves leaving the physical realm (cue ayahuasca and a shaman).

Spanning 28 years, the events Mr. Phillips recounts in “17 Border Crossings” are mostly drawn from his own experiences. We are lucky this theatermaker is so well-traveled, otherwise we might have been stuck with accounts of a junior year in Paris. Instead, we visit Colombia, Croatia and Cuba.

And those are just the countries starting with C.

They are all summoned thanks to the inventive use of basic theatrical tools, as David Todaro’s lighting and Robert Kaplowitz’s sound help create different settings on a stage bare except for a desk, a chair and a hanging light bar that can be pulled up and down.

Mr. Phillips, whose earlier works include “Capsule 33” and “Red-Eye to Havre de Grace,” is an ingratiating writer and performer. He needs little by way of props to evoke a trip on a ferry crossing the Mediterranean, riding shotgun on a Colombian motorcycle taxi or trying to sleep in a cramped compartment on a Balkan Express train. He also eases in and out of different languages, peppering the script with Spanish, Portuguese, Czech and French, among others.

Throughout, the staging by Tatiana Mallarino (Mr. Phillips’s wife) moves with a fluidity at odds with the travel mishaps, which are related with dry humor. A recurring gag involves Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants,” the Europop hit that had no problem ignoring custom checkpoints to spread with the ineluctable ease of a virus back in 1992.

Then again, the stamps in the Passenger’s passport have a more lasting presence than his anecdotes, because the genial, light-footed show retreats every time things get sticky or uncomfortable. And when borders come up nowadays, unsettling matters are hard to avoid. Flying into Liberty International Airport in Newark from Bogotá, the Passenger is detained five hours by Homeland Security for unclear reasons. Not much is made of it.

The show — which was added to the New York Theater Workshop season as a late replacement for Martyna Majok’s delayed “Sanctuary City” — has been slightly revised since it was presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2015. A new story is about trying to attend a Live Aid-like concert held in February 2019 in Cúcuta, a Colombian city next to Venezuela. But over all Mr. Phillips steers clear from obvious topical references until the very end, which takes place between Mexico and the United States.

The Passenger tells of becoming a “dental refugee” when he has to get two molars removed in Ciudad Juárez because it is much cheaper than in the United States. He meets a man named Pablo who was once caught in the net of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, then goes on to imagine the point of view of an American Border Patrol agent sitting in wait by the Rio Grande, watching for people trying to cross. The oddly gentle conclusion seems to suggest that we are all parts of a cosmic whole where borders mean little. Alas, being starry-eyed seems less poetic than naïve nowadays.


Source link

No comments