Also see Dean's review of Secret Things
What is a dream and what is real, and does it matter? What is the boundary between fate and individual responsibility, between despair and hope? Such are the philosophical questions posed in a powerful and ambitious play being performed by the Working Classroom in Albuquerque. Director Monica V. Sanchez warns, however, there are no answers. “We invite you to set aside the need for answers and revel in the questions,” she says, adding, “We invite you to dream with us.”
Without any preparation at all, Dreamlandia opens with a shock. Amid immense agony, a Mexican illegal migrant gives birth, on stage, and dies. The horror of the scene not only sets the tone for much that will follow; it also creates swirling uncertainties that trouble several of the characters until the final curtain falls.
Based on the 17th-century Spanish classic La vida is sueño and with overtones of the Greek tale of Oedipus, the play relocates the drama to the U.S.-Mexican bordera mythological as well as a geographical borderland. That borderland is magnificently illustrated by the stage set of a plain brown wooden platform bisected by a sinuously curving ribbon of glass, a symbolic representation of the Rio Grande and the two countries that border it. With a dialogue larded with Spanish and a bilingual cast, the play nicely captures the displacement of those who live in and travel trough this borderland.
The cast is a melange of ages and ethnicities, a trademark of the Working Classroom. Actors include school children and adults (one of them 69 years old), blacks, Anglos and Hispanics, professionals and amateurs. Melding these nine diverse performers into a smooth ensemble is a credit to director Sanchez. Standout performances include the young Andy Chavez as an energetic and charming Pepin, Elijah Bradford as Lazaro, Gabriela Mayogra as Bianca and Richard McClarkin as Celestino.
With this performance, the Working Classroom is celebrating its 25th anniversary as an institution devoted to bringing the performing and visual arts to diverse populations, particularly minorities. The anniversary reunited several of those who participated in the classroom two decades ago.
Dreamlandia, written by Octavio Solis, continues Friday-Sunday through August 25 at 418 Atlantic Ave. SW in Albuquerque. For information and tickets, visit workingclassroom.org or call 242-9267.