Engaging the audience in multiple facets of the immigration debate, playwright and attorney Evangeline Ordaz has crafted an amazingly powerful story in “Visitors Guide to Arivaca.” This powerful, emotional and thought provoking play highlights the numerous viewpoints that are intertwined with one another when people cross the border, protect it and when it lands at their front door as Ordaz ingeniously shows how one simple act, can cause a butterfly affect.
The play focuses on the journey Valente, who is played by Justin Huen and his wife Linda, played by Marissa Garcia make crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S. via the Arizona border. The hardships and tribulations Valente and Linda face all mirror the same experiences other immigrants face when crossing the border through the desert, which includes carrying enough food and water, knowing which trails to take, dealing with criminals and surviving the arduous trek alive and healthy. This sets off a chain reaction of problems that begin to trickle down to near by residents who live near the border and how the act of people immigrating from Mexico to the U.S. causes numerous live to be intertwined.
Originally commissioned in 2007 for the Borderlands Theater Company in Tuscon, Ordaz spent time with the humanitarian group, “No More Deaths,” which is composed of volunteers who provide medical aid and nourishment to immigrants crossing. The play came as a response to two activist being arrested on the grounds that they helped smuggle an immigrant across the border when they actually drove the person to a hospital to get them immediate medical help. During her time in Arivaca, Ordaz participated the various forms of help the volunteers provide to people crossing whether it was keeping an eye out for people that needed help, setting up water stations or carrying supplies. She also interviewed various volunteers, residents and immigrants crossing to get a better understanding of the reasons why everyone does what they do. This influenced the characters found through out the play.
The desert where the play is set is also part of the Tohono O’odham Nations land, which highlights how the native American tribes that live on or close to the border manage with people crossing and dying on their lands. It also touches on the ethical and legal ramifications that residents face when trying to provide immigrants with aid.
The story is carefully crafted like a hand knit sweater as the focus goes from one character to another, while at the same time giving each character enough time to develop throughout the play. This adds to the multiple layers found in the play that synchronize with one another, never getting tangled up or confusing the audience.
This makes it easier to see some of the critical points Ordaz and Director Armando Molina make about the events in the play and the personal ethical judgments characters encounter when they become involved. This is because they are all linked together by their passions whether it’s trying to work for a better quality of life, fulfill their patriotic duty, clear their conscience or just trying to stay out of it all together.
The design and lighting crew has done an amazing job of creating a small patch of desert inside the Alexandria’s black box theater. Half way through the play the audience will forget that they’re in the middle of downtown and that they’re actually there in the dessert crossing over with Valente and Linda. Especially when the play can take an emotional toll on the audience as the subject matter can hit close to home for audience members who have family members who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico.
The rest of the cast does an amazing job helping craft the over all story and bringing their own characters to life with vibrant passion and enthusiasm. “Visitors Guide to Arivaca” continues on through October 4 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 7 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students. As a special promotion, LAEastside readers who buy their tickets online can get a discounted price by using the code: randomhero. The Company of Angeles Theater Company is one of Los Angeles’ oldest non-profit theater companies and is celebrating their 50th anniversary this October.