Carrollton — On their website the Minuteman Project asks: How will our border be protected against a new wave of illegal aliens? A relatively young Spanish author, Juan Carlos Rubio, offers an interesting answer vis a vis George and Margaret, two unforgettable characters in his play Arizona. The Cambalache Teatro en Español production, under the direction of founder Beatriz Mariel and with cast members Paola Ramírez (Margaret) and Ignacio Luján (George), offers an excellent and intimate performance on the perils of "keeping an eye your neighbor."
The show takes place in a private home in Carrollton in the midst of renovation, where 30 chairs offer a cinematic close-up from anywhere in the house. I was told that one evening a situation came up where the piece was performed outside on the terrace, which only goes to show that not only must the show go on but that Spanish-speaking audiences in Dallas love their theater.
The actors, both resident artists in the area, perform in a space of about four feet deep. Within this tiny area, spectators experience the vastness of the Arizona desert. Ramirez’s lovely singing voice allows Margaret to sing and dance with Julie Andrews in “Do, a deer, a female deer…” (“Do-Re-Mi”) from The Sound of Music (in Spanish, the title of the film is La novicia rebelde/The Rebellious Novice—now that’s descriptive!)
Following a Zen-like perspective, limitations offer their own opportunities. Worth the price of admission is watching Ramírez’s Margaret as her countenance morphs from a happy-go-lucky wife in love with her husband to the look of a woman who has just been raped by the object of her affections (tastefully done behind the curtains, this performance is for general audiences).
Margaret is accompanying her husband on his latest endeavor. She has no idea why they are vacationing in the Arizona dessert, binoculars in hand, folding chairs, Coca-cola, a radio and a rifle to accompany them in the hot sun. Her knowledge of the world comes from reading Readers’ Digest, which she quotes often to George’s amusement, and whatever her husband says. After all, he knows best.
Luján’s George, on the other hand, is muscular, masculine and absolutely knows that he knows what is best. He treats her as though she were an amusing child. His concern is for the country and saving it from the eminent danger that comes from the South (“All danger always comes from the South, Margaret”). The dialogue’s snappy rhythm reminded me of one of my favorite films, The Out-of-Towners (1970 by Neil Simon, directed by Arthur Hiller, starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis). Who can ever forget Sandy Dennis’ “George, I think we are being robbed”?
In fact, the script is laced with plenty of references from Hollywood musicals (Rubio is also a film and television writer). The primary referents in this dark drama come directly from Hollywood’s lightest and most innocent fare: The Sound of Music (1959, Rodgers and Hammerstein) and Singin' in the Rain (1952, directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, starring Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds).
I happened to see a production of Arizona during the three-week Miami International Theater Festival this summer, produced by a Mexico City company, Teatro de Babel, and directed by Spaniard Ignacio García. Staged in a proscenium stage, with projections of both the desert and the filmic clips were impressive. However, the more modest Dallas production left nothing to be desired. Why? The quality of the direction and the acting. Mariel, a demanding self-taught director, did enough table work to extract the core out of this script, which offers very little by way of stage directions. The actors, on the other hand, were stellar throughout the performance, particularly making sense of the ending, which fell to Luján´s ability to have us understand George’s inner workings without saying a word.
During both the Miami and the Dallas audience talk-backs the ending was questioned. I concur with the questioning of the ending, believing it to be the weakest point of the script. Nevertheless, this company chose a relevant piece of work that addresses not only the issue of undocumented immigration, but the human rights issue of children being victimized by an unsettled and unsettling international situation.
» Teresa Marrero is Associate Professor of Latin American and Latino Theater in the Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the University of North Texas