Once Upon a Time, Billy (Triney Sandoval), a Unitarian Minister, found a near dead woman crossing from Mexico through the desert of Arizona. He rescued and cared for Anita (Maria Elena Ramirez). They fell in love, married, had children – Eva (Jacqueline Guillén), Aaron (Tyler Alvarez) – and built a life together. Later, Christian (Bobby Moreno), her son from a first marriage, illegally crossed the border to join his close-knit family. Two of them then, lived ordinary lives but for looking over their shoulders. Try to imagine avoiding police, jumping at lights and sirens, rarely going out at night, getting by without identification…
Years pass. Discovered by accident (most often the case), Anita disappears (most often the case), is detained, then deported to Mexico. She somehow makes it back to Tuscon, bloody, sunburned, and dehydrated only to be caught again – because of a broken headlight. A broken headlight!
“Today” Anita lives in a tiny room in Mexico with a hotplate. A mere 72 miles away might just as well be the moon. Communication with the family by cell phone is frequently scheduled. Photos are sent. Everything legally possible (within economic possibility) is being done.
Even then, The Department of Immigration was overtaxed. That year alone, 1,562 bills were introduced, 240 laws enacted. For a time, hope of mom’s return is sustained. Otherwise a law abiding woman with American children, why would they keep her?! Why, indeed?
It’s a common story these days, but rarely given such thorough and compassionate observation. Hilary Bettis takes us through eight years (starting in 2008) of one family’s abject frustration and coping. There’s nothing like putting a face on absence/suffering to drive home its toll. Statistics can be disconcerting, but remain numbers.
Billy is a warm, attentive father and husband. His calm demeanor and light touch (perfect choice of jokes) sustain both the kids and his own long distance relationship, though not without potholes. Aaron needily acts out awhile, then settles down, eventually finding his own singular coping environment.
Eva grows up quickly looking after Aaron, running the house, making increasingly great sacrifices. For a moment, it looks like Anita will be allowed to attend her daughter’s high school graduation, but no. Christian works catch as catch can, falls in love, marries and has children. Low profile is paramount. Will they find him too?
In 2012, President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) implementation, which included undocumented immigrants, raises (then dashes) Christian’s expectations.
When a 2016 expansion was attempted, the program got stuck in the Supreme Court’s arguments on limitation. President Trump has moved to repeal DACA entirely. A decision is not likely until after the election. As of June 2019, USCIS estimates there were 699,880 active DACA recipients residing and able to work in the United States. During that period, the program rejected about 49,100 people out of 959,000 applications. About 1.8 million renewal requests have also been denied.
Now, of course, we have an ungodly number of children in abhorrent facilities, separated from parents of whom the government has lost track. How many will be traumatized for life? What of those who grow up here without parents? Are we to exile productive perspective citizens because of ancestry? By the criteria of inherited crime without evaluation as to severity, we might lose half our citizenry.
Hilary Bettis is an excellent writer. Sibling relationships are credible, life and personality changes, perceptive and well written. Idiosyncratic character details abound without ever taking the easy way out and making this an angry, dysfunctional family. Billy’s conversations with Anita show loving, adult restraint.
Two more incidents rock the family. At some point during the intermissionless scenario, sympathy morphs to empathy. We like this family. Billy is a man of God. The kids might be “our” kids. How can things be so unjust?!
Begun five years ago, this play is even more relevant now, at its world premiere. A deeply touching story, in no way polemic, it’s entertaining, illuminating and well worth seeing.
The first class company seamlessly creates ease and familiarity. Triney Sandoval (Billy) is grounded and appealing. Tyler Alvarez’ Aaron radically changes with believability. Maria Elena Ramirez conjures a whole character with only her voice.
Director Jo Bonney does a superb, naturalistic job with both character and action. Rachel Hauk’s Set Design is appropriately spare and poor. Projections of varied sky enhance. Costumes by Emilio Sosa fit character like second skin. Elisheba Lttoop’s sound design utilizes just the right music to support time, place, and mood.
Photos by Jeremy Daniel
Opening: Jacqueline Guillén, Triney Sandoval, Tyler Alvarez, Bobby Moreno
Roundabout Theatre Company presents
72 Miles to Go…
Laura Pels Theatre
Through May 3, 2020