November 03, 2007

Tohono O'odham in immigration play

'Arivaca' educates on border crisis but drama fails to igniteThe full, labyrinthine complexity of what is known as "the immigration issue" is epitomized in the region around the Arizona town of Arivaca, 10 miles north of the Mexican border and just east of the large Tohono O'odham reservation. In "Visitor's Guide to Arivaca (Map Not to Scale)," a world premiere that opened Saturday at San Jose's Teatro Visión, playwright and Legal Aid Foundation attorney Evangeline Ordáz attempts to cover as many aspects of the issue as possible in less than two hours of stage time.

It's a daunting project. Ordáz addresses everything from the terrible humanitarian crisis of the thousands of deaths in that desert and the economics driving Mexican peasant farmers to attempt the crossing to the predations of the "coyotes," human trafficking, border security, competition for American jobs, outsourcing, Indian reservation politics, the Samaritan movement to provide medical aid to immigrants lost in the desert, the legal attempts to stop that work and the economic impact of the widening of the official border zone on the ranchers caught within it.

To Ordáz's credit, and that of the production staged by Armando Molina, "Arivaca" presents most of these issues, and some of the competing points of view, very well. The ideas and what's at stake are clear, as are the multiple story lines. The play is as educational and informative as it is passionately partisan, and Ordáz makes her points as effectively with humor as with argument. On the other hand, it's dramatically schematic. The stories unfold in short, choppy scenes that generally do little more than explicate a plot development. The characters rarely emerge as more than talking points. Key dramatic moments seem to crop up purely for thematic convenience.

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