Written and Directed by Juan Ramirez, Jr.
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Corina’s (Cristy Reynoso) dream is to reach New York City and start a new life. This American Dream begins in Guatemala and reaches a climax in Tucson, Arizona where the twenty-two-year-old illegal immigrant is being held in a “safe house” by her “coyotaje” Efren (Juan Ramirez, Jr.), the human smuggler who has illegally transported Corina from her crossing point into the United States. Corina’s husband is late with the final payment for Efren’s “work” and, unless he makes the Western Union transfer in a relatively short period of time, Efren threatens to kill his captive.
“The American Dream,” currently playing at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre, taps deeply into the realms of moral ambiguity to examine the encounter between Corina and her captor Efren as they play what appears to be a life-or-death cat and mouse game culminating in an ending skirting the outer edges of Magical Realism. Every time Efren raises the threat level for Corina, the illegal immigrant “plays” Efren by reminding him of his own journey from Guatemala, claiming she is two-weeks pregnant by proffering an ultrasound image from a woman who is in her second trimester, offering to move in with Efren and do his every bidding, and – finally – revealing that she knows his mother back in Central America.
Mr. Ramirez uses the conflicts of his two characters to address the nature of the American Dream, its promises and its disappointments. The promise of freedom and the new life with her husband appeals to Corina: the reality of his experience as an immigrant in America disappoints Efren. In their exchange, the audience can revisit the rich and enduring questions surrounding the quest for the American Dream: how is life in America better or worse than life in Central America or Mexico; what is an illegal immigrant; why do brave individuals continue to make the dangerous journey across borders to reach America?
Juan Ramirez, Jr.’s script is strong and, with feedback from the experience at the Broadway Bound Festival, the playwright will be able to continue to develop “The American Dream” successfully. He tackles important issues facing not only America but the entire global community. It would help the progression of the play if the audience felt more compassion for Corina, cared about her more. This would reinforce the tension between the characters and accentuate the difference in their world views. Both Mr. Ramirez and Ms. Reynoso address the conflicts of their characters with authenticity.
It is difficult to write, direct, and star in one’s own play. If any one of the roles suffers, it is usually the role of director. Mr. Ramirez’s direction is adequate but needs tightening up in the second act where the pace seems to slow a bit more than it should. Also, in the first act, Ms. Reynoso’s Corina is left for long periods of time standing, wringing her hands, and rocking back and forth from one leg to the other. Again, it is sometimes difficult to direct one’s own play. More physical interaction – including raw violence – between the characters might augment the staging. Efren needs to be far more ruthless and exhibit his ability to terrorize his captive.
“The American Dream” continues the fortuitous conversation about immigration, so-called immigration reform (“Merit-Based Immigration System), human trafficking, legal immigration, illegal immigration, discrimination, the role of ICE officials, and nationalism. There are two more opportunities to see Mr. Ramirez’s important new play: Sunday August 6 at 6:30 p.m. and Thursday August 10 at 4:00 p.m.