Shelli DeRobertis 9:19 p.m., May 22
On paper, Dona Silva Valderama and daughter Fernanda are documented immigrants from Mexico. They live in a big house in McAllen, Texas. Dona Silva's wealthy husband lives in Mexico and visits on occasion.
On paper, Concha and daughter Kita don't exist. Undocumented aliens, they snuck into south Texas on a boat. One reason they came by sea, Concha's 12-year-old son crossed by land and a Border Patrolman shot him.
In America, Concha and her daughter are "invisible." And "disposable." They eke out a life relentlessly pulled down, Kita says, by "social gravity."
Concha lands a job as live-in maid at the Valderama's. Simple reason: spoiled, 10-year-old Fernanda drove the others crazy.
Tanya Saracho's memory drama recalls the 10 years the four women spent together under the same roof. But not the same circumstances, since Concha and Kita - the name Fernanda dubbed her - shared an eight-by-ten room with a washer and dryer.
The girls form an unequal bond. Fernanda dominates. Kita has no choice but to acquiesce. As the years pass, they grow apart. Fernanda goes all-in for Americanization. She readily adopts "gringa" culture, even though often marginalized outside her home. She allows peers to "imprint" values in her head and chooses "not to notice" conditions around her.
Kita, whose father was also shot, can't help but see differences (like the blue-eyed Jesus in paintings). The older she grows,, and studies, and learns, the more she resists becoming a stereotype.
Saracho explores differences - gulfs, really - and includes audience participation. The general approach resembles eavesdropping. The script's bilingual, English and Spanish, without subtitles for either. Those who don't know Spanish are left out (as when the people next to them laugh at a joke they couldn't get). They experience barriers and exclusion first hand.
David F. Weiner's clever set underlines this alienation. The walls are rows of doors, one atop another. Occasionally Jason Bieber's lights will shine on one or two, as if they've been unlocked, while the rest remain a blockade.
The play begins in Chicago, 2006, where over 100,000 demonstrators protested a change in U.S. immigration policy (they waved flags from Mexico and Central America, which became controversial, and which Weiner's set drapes in the background like laundry on a line). For the first time in 14 years, Kita and Fernanda see each other - but from afar. As each recalls her 10 years with the other, it becomes clear that their journeys of self-discovery have a ways to go.
Whether they're playing with toys, or teens piercing an ear, or adults taking a difficult look backward, Gabriela Trigo (Fernanda) and Cynthia Bastidas (Kita) perform like yin and yang. Trigo's all fireworks (often in excess of the occasion but always in character); Bastidas comes from deep within, having to overcome internal barriers before she can assert herself. Both excel individually. Thanks to co-directors Robert Castro and Seema Sueko, their tandem efforts are terrific.
Melbo Novoa makes Fernanda's mother, Dona Silva, such an emotional wreck, she often enters pain first. Novoa gives the character special resonance by trying not to show it. Olivia Espinosa displays versatility as Concha, the nearly mute maid, Jessica, a high school cheerleader on and off the field, and as Chela, a free-thinker critical of the Land of the Free.
Tenth Avenue Theatre, 930 Tenth Avenue, downtown, playing through October 21.