Nowhere on the Border
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 16, 2007
Nowhere on the Border—En Ningún Lugar de la Frontera in Spanish—is a remarkably fine play. It tells the story of two men, one an American from Kentucky on border patrol in the Southwest U.S., the other a Mexican who may or may not have crossed the border illegally. Gary, the American, is initially suspicious of Roberto (whose name, in sadly typical American style, he seems entirely unable to remember). But as the two men come to learn more about one another, the things they have in common become more important than their differences. Playwright Carlos Lacámara gently and steadfastly reminds us that the only way we can understand others is to listen to them.
The place where Gary comes upon Roberto—who, sleeping under a blistering hot desert sun, Gary mistakenly assumes is dead —is, almost literally, nowhere: a few miles from a highway, it's a remote clearing whose only visitors are transients, either drug smugglers or illegal immigrants. Roberto explains that he is neither of these. His daughter, Pilar, has recently left their home in Mexico to find her husband, who has been in the U.S. for three years. Pilar hasn't been heard from for a while now, and the last traces of her point to this desolate spot. Roberto has come upon the remains of about ten dead people near here, but so far he hasn't found any sign of his beloved daughter.
Lacámara presents a second concurrent tale, that of Pilar's dangerous journey across the border into the unyielding mountains and desert of New Mexico and Arizona. For a few hundred American dollars, a "friend" sets her up with a "guide" whose inexperience is manifested in a snarly arrogance. Eventually, only Pilar and one other man are all that's left of the group. This part of the play, harrowing and untethering, reminds us that the promise of America is still very real to many people, who are willing to do nearly impossible things to get here.
Director José Zayas places both stories side by side on the same set, in interwoven scenes that play alternately in English (Roberto and Gary) and Spanish (Pilar). Audience members are provided headsets providing simultaneous translation in both languages; the notion of performing the piece bilingually strikes me as particularly brilliant, reinforcing the "other-ness" of whichever language is not your native tongue by calling upon most of us to strain just a little to keep up with what's going on. English-speaking Americans aren't required to do that nearly often enough, I think.
Which is not to say that Nowhere on the Border is in any way inaccessible to people like myself who don't speak Spanish. On the contrary, this production is welcoming and feels like a mandatory experience for anyone who wants to understand more about the so-called "immigration debate" that's happening in this country right now.
Zayas and his actors are in excellent form here. The entire cast is outstanding, with the two leads—Ed Trucco as Gary and Ernest De Villa-Bejjani as Roberto—especially memorable. Nowhere on the Border offered, for me, a fine introduction to Repertorio Español, a company that I imagine most English-speaking theatergoers are as unfamiliar with as I have heretofore been (but one that has been a NYC institution for decades). I plan not to remain a stranger to its work.