The most important play you will ever see is currently in production at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB).
Okay, that’s a bit hyperbolic, but after experiencing Dreamers: Aquí y Allá, a living piece of theater ripped from the proverbial headlines that directly addresses the uneasy, uncertain status of nearly a million people living in the U.S., it’s difficult to shake that feeling.
Presented by California Repertory, the master’s arm of the university’s theater department, the play is a corkscrew to the heart, a punch in the gut, a slap in the face and an urgent call to arms. Not Second Amendment arms, but the First Amendment’s: the freedom to stand up, speak out and express yourself as an American citizen, specifically through voting or working for candidates in the upcoming midterm elections who might provide a voice of reason and empathy. (In fact, the play twice mentions that elections in Orange County’s congressional districts will serve as battlegrounds for both health care and immigration reform.)
The 80-minute play was created and performed by those who are and who value Dreamers, some 800,000 people (including approximately 1,000 currently enrolled at CSULB), many of whom arrived here too young to remember the countries they were born in. They go to school, have jobs, pay taxes and otherwise contribute to a society they don’t legally belong to because they lack a piece of paper.
It was conceived by Andrea Caban, who directs with Julie Granata-Hunicutt, with plenty of assistance from 30 Dreamers who participated in CSULB professor Armando Vazquez-Ramos’ California-Mexico Studies Center’s Dreamers Study Abroad program. Dreamers channels the vigor, spirit and sense of using theater to propel social activism pioneered by the landmark troupe El Teatro Campesino, which rose from the soil of the Delano grape strike. An ensemble of 11, many of whom often appear in silhouette, document what it’s like to be undocumented: the mountain of paperwork needed to file for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), their fears of giving so much information to a government agency that seems hostile, the daily small and great struggles of continuing to strive and work toward something when the real threat looms that it will all be taken away.
Dreamers is a play about battling a culture of fear, both their own and of people who want them out of “their” country, fighting for their families, searching for their identities and working toward a better future, but one shrouded in uncertainty. It’s informative, entertaining, fierce and poignant—particularly a moment in which a busload of Dreamers returning from an immigration conference in Tijuana approach the U.S. border. They see the Aug. 21, 2017, solar eclipse and briefly share a communal moment, with one musing that maybe it’s a sign from the universe revealing that we are all children spawned from the same dust of stars. But that notion is dashed a few days later when Trump announces the end of DACA.
This is not a play about impersonal, politicized terms, or some well-intentioned piece of agitprop, or even, really, about the immigration debate. It’s about people and their individual stories, reflecting the experiences of hundreds of thousands. The college valedictorian who tells graduating seniors that she can’t share in their optimism for the future because she doesn’t know where she will be in six months; the young woman born in Mexico but raised in the U.S. who is part of both lands, but considers neither her real home; the El Salvadoran native who fears he will be killed if deported, as he is “too white”; the lawyers, teachers, homeowners, business owners, medical students and aspiring child social workers who don’t know if or when they will lose all they have attained and are still working toward.
It’s about the people whose aspirations, sacrifices and sense of opportunity truly make this country great, people who realize that no dream is worth having unless you have to fight for it. And there is a great deal of fight in this piece.
So, a suggestion from this old white guy? Shave about 20 minutes and do it EVERYWHERE. Do it at high schools and colleges, in parks and senior centers. Do it in front of city halls, DMVs, courthouses, police stations, Whole Foods, and Bed Bath & Beyond. Take it to the streets—not just of Santa Ana, but also of Brea and Rancho Santa Margarita and the Fullerton hills. Take it to bars and restaurants and tattoo parlors and anywhere people whine about voting not mattering, or everything is rigged, or they’re too busy or otherwise preoccupied to give a shit about the shit that matters.
Hell, do it at Disneyland.
Do it where the people who need to hear it—that gray, unmotivated, ignorance-is-bliss middle area where most of us live—can hear it. Do it with the drive and focus that makes people stop what they’re doing and listen. And most important, ACT. Because, as one actor eloquently says near the end, this isn’t just an issue about immigration; it’s an issue about humanity. The fate of 800,000 people, as well as a large slice of this nation’s conscience, precariously hangs in the balance.
Fuck it: This is the most important play you will ever see.
Dreamers: Aquí y Allá at CSULB Studio Theatre, 12500 Bellflower Ave., Long Beach, (562) 985-7891; www.csulb/theatre.edu. Thurs., 7 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. $15-$20.
Joel Beers has written about theater and other stuff for this infernal rag since its very first issue in, when was that again???