“Nowhere on the Border” opens with volunteer watchman Gary (Chet Grissom) hastily calling authorities about a dead Mexican man — one he assumes to be an illegal immigrant — whom he finds in the middle of the desert.
But it turns out that the man, Roberto (Jonathan Nichols), is neither dead norillegal. From here the Road Theatre Company production of “Nowhere on the Border,” while slightly too on-the-nose with its message, invokes adept acting and direction to successfully spotlight one of today’s most topical issues.
Written by Carlos Lacámara and directed by Stewart J. Zully, “Nowhere on the Border” follows two story lines (and timelines). The first starts with Gary keeping watch over Roberto, not realizing that the latter is merely sleeping. After Roberto wakes up, we learn that he was waiting for Border Patrol to retrieve a body that he had come across during his own watch.
In the second story line, Roberto’s daughter Pilar (Natalie Llerena) sets out on an illegal trek from Mexico to America in search of her husband, who crossed the border years prior. Pilar, it turns out, is the reason Roberto is at the border: He wants to make sure his daughter has made it safely to her destination.
Pilar’s story arc remains compelling. Roberto and Gary’s, however, holds less suspense and carries the burden of a heavy-handed message. The differences between the men are clear from the get-go: Gary is an ignorant white man, suspicious of outsiders; Roberto is charming and confident, sure of his place in society. What also becomes clear from the start is the trajectory of this relationship, which feels forced and not entirely realistic.
With the stakes as high as they are — for these characters and also for the real people facing the same kinds of challenges daily — it almost seems like a disservice to have the kind of relatively smooth resolution this play offers.
That said, Grissom and Nichols are assured in their roles, giving their all to convince the audience of a genuine respect that develops between their characters. As Pilar, Llerena delivers a gripping performance as a woman willing to do whatever it takes to reach her husband. She not only convinces the audience of her motivations but also makes herself, through her sincerity and yearning, someone to root for.
Zully’s direction is skillful and sharp. Aided by keen lighting (Derrick McDaniel) and a gorgeously designed set (Paul Dufresne), the production comes together seamlessly.
Although the message itself is not as smooth — it gets yelled rather than spoken — “Nowhere on the Border” mostly succeeds, driven by the collaborative talent of the cast and crew.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through March 8; see website for additional performances select Thursday and Sunday evenings (all subject to change)
Tickets: $15-$34; Sundays are pay-what-you-can
Info: (818) 761-8838, roadtheatre.org
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (no intermission)
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