Saturday, April 14, 2018

BOXCAR at Paper Wing Theatre

The Mexican border along the United States is not an easy topic to discuss or approach in this day and age. With our President and his supporters demanding that we "build a wall" and others demanding a "comprehensive immigration policy", no one ever really tackles the serious issues surrounding the people. In Sylvia Gonzalez's "Boxcar (El Vagon)", the issue is approached from a much more personal and direct approach when five travelers are trapped in the sweltering desert heat and two border patrol officers investigate. Inspired by a very real tragic event from the mid-80s, Boxcar places a human face on a political hot button that haunts many countries today.

Full Disclosure: This is not my usual cup of tea. Let me get that right out of the way- I am at a stage in my life where I try to keep from commenting on hot button shows that have a political issue. I've actively avoided commenting where any comment I make could be misconstrued and taken as offense. But having a few friends in the cast, I wanted to support them and see their performances. I wasn't going to write a single word. What happened, however, is that the claustrophobic nature of the play wormed it's way into me and sucked me in despite my hesitation. This is, at it's core, a deeply scarring horror experience as we witness five men trapped in a boxcar with very little air and a sweltering desert surrounding them. And I love me some good old fashioned human HORROR. And while I'm sure many would see this as a human drama, this is very much the core of a horror story to me.

Roberto (Christopher Lopez) and Bill (Erik Fleming) are two border patrol agents interviewing one of the five men trapped in the boxcar, a Salvadoran teen named Noel (Emilio Sapien). He relates the story of his passage north for the two men- a story that eventually leads to his arrival at the boxcar and his introduction to the other four men. All five have paid the Coyotes to smuggle them across the border to the United States, and this leg of the journey involves travel along the rails, across a desert, in a locked boxcar.

We meet the pious Francisco (Alexander Henson), the jovial Huero (Jason Roeder), the irreverent Pepe (Andres Reyes), and the indomitable Manuel (Jose Miguel). The four men quickly bond over their stories of travel to the United States, taking Noel under their wing and offering him advice on women, studies, finding work, and avoiding deportation. But the heat is steadily rising and they are in greater danger than they realize. Everyone delivers on their performances, giving the audience every reason in the world to sympathize with each of them.

A great weight lies on Manuel, however- a man of humor, intelligence, and compassion. He is the one who allows the door to be locked and he is the one who has to try and urge the others through their journey, to try and find a way to survive. Jose Miguel's performance is top notch, and it's no surprise to see him open the show with an early interaction with Patrol Officer Roberto. Both characters are central to the themes being explored as Roberto is forced, by duty, to send Miguel back in the opening moments of our play.

Christopher Lopez hits hard with his own performance. the second generation child of a Mexican immigrant, Roberto questions his duty, his past, and the very system that he enforces. He's also forced to realize that there are no easy answers. He butts heads with his partner, he wrestles with his conscience, and he's ultimately left to make a choice.

The entire package is brilliantly produced and directed by Linda Felice. She makes very deliberate lighting choices and develops a sound track that works in cohesion with the performances to lure the audience into a very emotional experience.

10 out of 10. And I don't make that rating lightly. 

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