Culture News

James Garcia's 1070 Is a Theatrical Call to Action

Rehearsal for James Garcia's 1070 play.
Rehearsal for James Garcia's 1070 play. Phil Soto
It's been seven years since Arizona adopted Senate Bill 1070.

The controversial law was designed to reduce illegal immigration. But it also gave cover to officials who practiced and supported racial profiling of Latinos. Some called it the "show me your papers" law, because it allowed local law enforcement officials to demand proof of citizenship from anyone they suspected of being in the country illegally.

That's one of many SB 1070 provisions struck down by various courts. It's also one of several reasons the bill continues to serve as an inspiration for Arizona artists.

In June, James Garcia debuted a new play called 1070: We Were Strangers Once, Too. It continues through Sunday, July 9, at Herberger Theater Center.

And it feels relevant as ever.

Unfortunately, Arizona was ahead of the curve on the anti-immigration issue. Although much of SB 1070 has been overturned, its spirit lives on in some political circles.

President Donald Trump is a proud purveyor of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. He’s eager to build a wall between Mexico and the United States. And he favors a travel ban that singles out countries with high Muslim populations.

So the timing is good for New Carpa Theater Company's production of 1070. The company, founded by Garcia in 2002, specializes in works by Latino artists.

In addition to writing the play, Garcia directs and produces this production.

Garcia’s 1070 is a rhetorical romp through Arizona’s anti-immigration policies. Playful, yet poignant, it explores the real-world consequences of immigrant-bashing.

click to enlarge New Carpa Theater Company rehearses a protest scene in 1070. - PHIL SOTO
New Carpa Theater Company rehearses a protest scene in 1070.
Phil Soto
The play opens as two parents share a meal with their three grown children. Only the youngest, their son, is an American citizen. The parents and their daughters are undocumented immigrants.

It’s the early days of SB 1070, and the family faces tough questions.

Should they stay in Arizona? Should they risk arrest by joining anti-SB 1070 protests? Different family members make distinct choices, with significant consequences.

But they’re not the only characters in Garcia’s play.

Using a series of short scenes, separated by brief blackouts with musical interludes and quick set changes, he introduces key SB 1070 players. They’re caricatures of real-life politicians with fictional names and personas.

It’s an effective device for conveying the history and impact of SB 1070 — and it adds another layer to the play.

There’s intense drama as the fate of family members unfolds. But Garcia lathers on the comedy when politicians enter the mix.

The governor, a woman who dons conservative blazers and bright red lipstick, spews racist language under the guise of protecting Arizona from foreign invaders.

Both the state senator and Maricopa County sheriff exude egoism, complete with pompous swagger, plus hefty doses of racist and sexist comments.

The real political players in the SB 1070 debacle were Russell Pearce, the state senator who wrote the bill in January of 2010, and Governor Jan Brewer, who signed it into law that April.

And, of course, there was Joe Arpaio, whose long run as Maricopa County sheriff ended in 2016. Today, he’s facing his own set of legal battles.

Pearce became the first Senator recalled from office by voters, one of many SB 1070-related events that’s celebrated in Garcia’s work. Others include legal challenges that successfully gutted several provisions of the law.

click to enlarge Jeffrey Middleton (left) and Anna Flores (center) give the strongest 1070 performances. - PHIL SOTO
Jeffrey Middleton (left) and Anna Flores (center) give the strongest 1070 performances.
Phil Soto
Garcia succeeds in showing the impact of policy on real people’s lives.

Even so, the show has a few rough patches.

Several cast members are new to acting, which means the performances aren’t as nuanced or consistent as they could be.

The best performances come from Anna Flores and Jeffrey Middleton. Flores conveys the passion of Luce, the daughter who decides to counter racism with activism, without overplaying the part. Middleton performs two roles, those of senator and sheriff, and exquisitely exemplifies each characters’ flawed idiosyncrasies to great comedic effect.

Although Garcia achieves his goal of putting a human face on the immigration debate, 1070 isn't likely to sway a lot of hearts and minds. Mocking other people's beliefs isn't all that effective as a means of persuasion.

The final scenes of 1070 are a theatrical call to action, reminding viewers that racism and sexism persist in the age of Trump – and that it’s essential to challenge them through individual and collective action.

Bottom line: There are valuable lessons enshrined in Garcia’s play. Thankfully, there’s also a whole lot of laughter.

1070: We Were Strangers Once, Too continues through Sunday, July 9, at Herberger Theater Center's Kax Theater. Tickets start at $15. New Carpa Theater Company is presenting a related event called Carpa Fest '17 on the Herberger Theater Center's outdoor plaza. The free event, which includes SB 1070-inspired artwork and live entertainment, takes place from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, July 7, through Monday, July 10. See details on the New Carpa Theater Company website.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble