Most of the kidnapping Arizona's famous for is the imprisonment and torture of undocumented immigrants held hostage by smugglers who attempt to extort additional payment from loved ones, or by other gangs who kidnap them from their original coyote.
Similar (and often more deadly) situations face Central Americans who cross from Guatemala into the state of Chiapas, Mexico, on their way to what they hope will be safety and opportunity in the U.S. The corrupt local government operates burial grounds for those who've stumbled on that initial hurdle, and one of these cemeteries -- one step up from a mass grave -- is the setting of local troupe Teatro Wirrarika's No Identificado/Unidentified by José Antonio Ocegueda, currently onstage at PHX:fringe Festival.
The script is in Spanish, but the company has made the show extremely accessible by showing opera-style supertitles in English on a narrow screen above the action. I loved being able to read the dialogue quickly and then focus on the performers and their voices.
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The set is visually gripping, with an enormous square of loose dirt covered with ramshackle crosses bearing handpainted black numbers that correspond to nameless corpses whose final personal effects -- a backpack, a few photos, a pair of shoes -- are stored in a nearby building. Random family members appear, having undertaken their own perilous treks in search of closure and a suitable burial. The shadows of the crosses fall this way and that as time passes.
Each survivor consults a list that discloses what's known about the circumstances of each death, but a man who's been waiting there for a while tells others that it isn't entirely accurate. More of the deceased have been murdered than the paperwork indicates, he says, and the murderers are in bed with the government officials.
The scenes are short, and music and poetry intersperse the more realistic goings-on. I could tell that the Spanish dialogue was a bit more detailed and evocative than the brief translations, but nevertheless, Ocegueda appears to have sidestepped any temptation to engage in melodrama, or in high-adrenaline action for its own sake, and presents a no-holds-barred look at a disturbing reality that's unfamiliar to many Arizona residents.
Sat., April 2, 3:30 p.m.; Sun., April 3, 5 p.m.; Sat., April 9, 8 p.m.; Sun., April 10, 6 p.m., 2011