Regional Reviews: Phoenix
La Ruta is the bus route that the women take to get to the U.S.-owned factories in Ciudad, Mexico, from their small homes. Gomez interviewed many individuals whose lives were impacted by the murders to craft La Ruta. He has wisely focused his 90-minute, one act play on two mothers of young girls who have disappeared and what the harsh reality of not knowing what happened to them has on their emotional state and daily lives. Yolanda and Marisela are longtime friends. Their daughters have started to work at the factories and have to take long bus trips to and from their jobs. Since they work the night shift, these trips are often in darkness.
When the play begins, Yolanda and Marisela are waiting at the bus stop at 1:00 a.m. for the arrival of Yolanda's daughter Brenda and we learn that Marisela's daughter has been missing. When Brenda fails to arrive on the last bus home from the factory, Marisela tries to reassure Yolanda that everything will be OK and that she'll be home any second, but Yolanda also dreads the realization that, like so many other women who've gone missing, Brenda will probably never return home. Gomez uses shifts in time, going back and forth before and after the night Brenda disappeared to give us clues to what happened to her. Did Brenda's co-worker Ivonne, who seems to have been the last person that several of the girls saw before they disappeared, have anything to do with it?
The subject of La Ruta is clearly one that more people need to be aware of–not just the murders and sexual assault of these young women, but also the harsh working environment in which many were underpaid and overworked. Gomez' decision to not have a through timeline in the piece adds mystery to the play and he has done a fairly good job of writing the characters realistically as well as ensuring they are unique individuals. However, he has positioned the plot as if it is a mystery that will be resolved, with projected dates and times at the beginning of each scene that state where each one falls in relationship to Brenda's disappearance, but there are so many loose ends and unanswered questions that it seems like a half-baked drama. The jumps in time also sometimes slow down the forward momentum of the play.
If Gomez' intention was to leave the audience as uncertain as Yolanda is, concerning exactly what happened to Brenda, he has succeeded, but that doesn't make for a satisfying play when he has you emotionally invested in these women and in discovering the truth of Brenda's disappearance. And, while he has done a good job in fleshing out the characters of Yolanda and Marisela, his depiction of Ivonne, who is the most interesting character of them all, is strangely lacking; we only get brief bits of information about her, which confuse more than clarify, and the scenes between Ivonne and Yolanda, where he could have fleshed out Ivonne, are somewhat repetitive. Also, we often hear about the horrors outside their homes and how the women have to run the last few blocks home after the bus drops them off in fear of what could happen to them, yet when Ivonne storms into Yolanda's home bloodied and in desperation, Yolanda barely notices anything wrong.
Fortunately, the cast for this production, under Chris Chávez' astute direction, is superb. Dolores E. Mendoza is exceptional as the quiet yet powerful Yolanda. Mendoza's ability to elicit the realistic combination of rage, loneliness, and survivor's guilt is heartbreakingly perceptive, especially in the painful way in which Yolanda states that she continually hopes this is a nightmare that she will wake up from. Estrella Paloma Parra is superb as Marisela, who uses her pain and suffering as fuel to protest not just for her murdered daughter but for all of the missing women.
Amanda Lopez-Castillo is fierce and strong as Ivonne, and Maria Cruz is bright and innocent as Brenda. Tiffany Valenzuela has a beautiful singing voice and expert guitar playing abilities which are used for the half dozen songs that are interspersed throughout the show. Alexandra "Sandy" Leon is good as a factory worker who suffers the consequences for speaking out.
The set design by Tianna Torrilhon-Wood provides a blank canvas for the effective media design by Cné Serrano to play out on. Shelly Trujillo's costumes are realistic and the lighting design from Ashley Hohnstein works extremely well, especially for the eerily dim scenes set at night. The fight choreography by Alex Kass is natural and shocking.
La Ruta is a fairly powerful drama that depicts the pervasive terror faced by the female maquila workers in Juárez and the impact their disappearances have on their family members. While the play isn't entirely successful, the cast in Stray Cat's production excel.
La Ruta runs through December 17, 2022, at Stray Cat Theatre with performances at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe AZ. For tickets and information, please call 480-227-1766 or visit straycattheatre.org.
Director: Chris Chávez