Wednesday - Sunday through May 12, $25
The controversial topic of illegal immigration takes center stage in the Working Theater’s timely and powerful La Ruta. Actually, “stage” is probably the wrong word, as the uniquely immersive production takes place primarily in a forty-eight-foot truck. Sharply written by Ed Cardona Jr. and skillfully directed by Tamilla Woodard, La Ruta begins as the audience, limited to thirty people per performance, gathers in a small tent, waiting to be hustled into a truck that will take them — along with a mysterious cargo — across the border into Texas. In charge of the journey is Raula (Sheila Tapia), a tough Hispanic woman who does not like being talked back to, leading to an immediate confrontation with Irma (Zoë Sophia Garcia), who has trouble keeping her mouth shut. The audience is soon pushed inside the truck, where they sit in darkness on big boxes. Raula relaxes in the front cab with the driver, Albert (Brian D. Coats), while Irma, Mabel (Annie Henk), and Francisco (Gerardo Rodriguez) are put in the back, where the unpredictable Juancho (Bobby Plasencia) is protecting the merchandise. Expert use of sound (Sam Kusnetz), light (Lucrecia Briceno), and projection (Dave Tennant and Kate Freer) makes it feel like the truck is actually moving as the story of each character unfolds, building to a shocking and unsettling climax.
La Ruta is adventure theater at its best, led by a strong, convincing performance by Tapia (CQ/CX), who has the primary responsibility of putting the audience on edge and keeping them there. Garcia, in her New York debut, is also excellent, her fear representative of the audience’s, constantly worrying about what is going to happen next. Since most of the play’s seventy-five minutes take place in close, dark quarters, claustrophobics should take note, but everyone else should rush to get the limited amount of tickets available for this smashing production. Of course, the audience gets only the tiniest taste of what it’s like for illegal immigrants who risk it all trying to make a new life in the supposed land of opportunity, able to return after the show to apartments that suddenly feel a whole lot more safe and comfortable. But if you really allow yourself to become lost in the tense drama, as if you’re also risking everything and not merely there as a theatrical spectator, you’re in for an unforgettable experience. La Ruta, which already played in the Bronx, continues alongside the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan through April 28, then traveling to IBEW Local 3 Headquarters in Flushing May 1-5 and Snug Harbor on Staten Island May 8-12. The play is accompanied by a small but informative multimedia exhibit about immigration put together by the Magnum Foundation.