Points of Departure
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 18, 2006
A quick Internet search indicates that there are places called San Bartolomé in Spain, Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru. Michael John Garcés doesn't say which of these countries (if any) is the setting for his play Points of Departure, and I suspect he's hoping in this way for a bid toward universality; I'm not sure, though, that that's such a useful idea.
The first act of Points of Departure is about a man named Marquez who has journeyed from his current home in an unnamed country that is certainly the United States to a small city in an unnamed country that appears to be in Central or South America. This country has systematically oppressed and eliminated the native culture in an apparent attempt to replicate, on a modern scale, the genocide/assimilation of Native American tribes by the United States. The "tongue" that Marquez knew as a boy (for he is from this country; grew up in a tiny village not far from this city) is obsolete; everyone speaks Spanish and has a Spanish name now; the injustices and excesses of the past that have made this possible are officially "forgotten" now as well.
Marquez, nonetheless, wants to get back to his village. He's not heard from family members still there in a long time. Much of what happens in this section of Points of Departure is Marquez's Kafka-esque struggle to get permission to go to the village from the local authorities, personified by a timorous bureaucrat named Cruz. Providing a thriller ambience to the thing are a local shopkeeper with a secret named Vargas and a hotel maid, Petrona, who seems to know (and to be bent on finding out) more than, strictly speaking, you'd expect her to. The ending is tragic, and not just in terms of the fates of the characters; the success of the government in completely eradicating Marquez's "people" is total and therefore chilling.
I found this first act to be provocative and pertinent (if a bit slow-moving under Ron Daniels's static and unimaginative direction); in fact, when the intermission arrived, I felt that Garcés had made his case effectively and had trouble imagining what more he would have to say in Act II.
And indeed, it turns out that he has little new to say at all. The second act, which takes place in a U.N. refugee camp "near the border" (of the same unidentified Latin American country and—where?), is about Petrona, and her struggles to get out of this place where her people are being persecuted. She's the only character from the first act who is also in the second; others involved in her story, which spans decades, are her husband Tumin, her father, her brother Xun, and a child named Leti whom she helps to escape. The stylized suspensefulness of Marquez's story is replaced here with self-conscious poetics: Petrona indulges, in between remembered incidents involving these other characters, in long, rambling monologues that feel nothing but (over)written. (Unfortunately, Sandra Delgado doesn't seem to have the technical expertise to manage the language, let alone make sense of them.) Points of Departure sinks beneath their weight.
This is a shame, because the first act has useful things to say about repression and collective memory. I think it would have even more to say, though, if it were more specific about where this is taking place: if these events actually happened (or are happening) somewhere, shouldn't we be given that information?
Alfredo Narciso (Marquez) and Mateo Gomez (Vargas) deliver expert performances in the first half, helping to wrap us into the intrigue and mystery that eventually unravels as the play moves forward. Cristian Amigo provides accompaniment on guitar that is appropriately sparse in Act I and, like so much else, overdone in Act II.