nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
May 19, 2012
Preconceptions of those different from us separate us almost as much as our actual differences. As they say, to truly understand someone you must walk a mile in their shoes whether they fit or not. With American Jornalero, Ed Cardona, Jr., takes us on a fairly enlightening and often funny walk in another’s shoes.
Jornalero is a Spanish term for a day laborer. Cardona sets his story on a sidewalk in Brooklyn where four jornaleros are waiting, sometimes for days, for an opportunity to make some money doing construction work. While they all have different backgrounds—three are Latino but come from different countries and one is Russian—they all there for the same reason: to make an honest living for themselves and their families. Into this mix Cardona throws Mark, a local vigilante who has recently lost his job and wants to prevent these jornaleros from working so he can protect jobs for Americans. His job is to hang out on the sidewalk with these guys and snap pictures of potential employers who drive by in trucks in an effort to scare them away from hiring illegal aliens. However, the longer he stays among them the more he learns that they aren’t the freeloading, low-lifes that he thinks they are. One man, Marcelo, is desperate to hear from his wife and child who are en route on a border crossing. Another, Luis, used to be a history teacher but now struggles to make ends meet. Luis is the conscience of the play. It is he who speaks most candidly with Mark and is integral in bringing about his new understanding.
Cardona’s script is heartwarming. He pulls us into these characters’ lives and really creates sympathy and perspective but he avoids character flaws and overt political statements. Dialogue that speaks directly about illegal immigration, job protection or xenophobia is sparse. Instead his characters speak honestly to each other about their hopes for a better life and the effect of that is charming. Director Mariana Carreño King’s vision of a world filled with paranoia, aspiration and lots of waiting flows gracefully from moment to moment. She doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable silences and the high action points are exciting and well choreographed.
The cast makes some real connections with their characters. Jose Joaquin Perez is great as the agonizing Marcelo while Bobby Plasencia and David Corbet get some laughs in their supporting roles. Joel Ripka turns out a sincere performance as the vigilante Mark and Bernardo Cubria is brilliant as Luis. The scenes between these two are not only the most memorable but also the most captivating.
American Jornalero is a delightful production on a subject that has little to be delighted by. That is no easy feat considering what is at stake for some of the folks trying to make a living doing day labor. I think the charm of the play lies in its sincere characters. They give us a view into a part of our world that we often overlook and the more we see them as people with stories to tell the more visible they will become. Check this one out before it’s gone. You may come away with a fresh perspective on immigration.