The Los Angeles Theatre Center is buzzing with “Encuentro 2014,” a month-long national theater festival organized by the Latino Theater Company, with a repertory of more than 15 productions from across the country.
Among them is “Enrique’s Journey,” based on Sonia Nazario’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series, published in the Los Angeles Times in 2002 and later expanded into a book, about a Honduran boy’s long struggle to join his mother in North Carolina.
Enrique (the charismatic, lithe Jose Guerrero) was 5 years old when Lourdes (Danett Hernandez) left him for America. As the story begins, they are on opposite sides of the stage, he longing for her, she working as a nanny and having a new baby of her own. She tries in vain to arrange for Enrique and his ambitious sister, Belky (Lara Gallegos), to join her. She sends gifts but breaks every promise to come home.
By the time Enrique resolves to find her, 11 years have passed. He has a drug habit, and his girlfriend, Maria Isabel (Marialuisa Burgos), is expecting their child. Still he jumps on a train and begins the journey that will eventually -- many run-ins with La Migra, deportations, deceptions, muggings, beatings and unexpected kindnesses later -- reunite him with Lourdes.
Adapter and director Anthony J. Garcia, the artistic director of the Denver company Su Teatro (where “Enrique’s Journey” premiered in 2011), tells the story in lyrical, half-Spanish, half-English dialogue and stages it in a dreamlike, expressionistic style.
The set consists primarily of two scaffolds on wheels, which represent the rattling freight trains the would-be immigrants perilously ride. The cast is always onstage, in the background, suggesting that Enrique’s journey is only one of many untold stories.
There are some beautifully theatrical touches, like the long strip of silk that represents the Rio Grande and a stunning sequence in which Enrique is deported over and over again; recited by the cast in unison, it has the concision of a song.
The production is enhanced by sound designer Brian Freeland’s rushing trains and by the sometimes playful, sometimes uncanny score composed by music director Daniel Valdez, including ironic references to “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
The script could be further trimmed: the opening takes up more time than it needs to and Enrique’s repeated hardships start to run together. For a story so grounded in grim realism, it has been given an unpersuasively upbeat ending. But Guerrero’s Enrique is a compelling, complex protagonist and his painful journey is worth experiencing.
“Enrique’s Journey,” Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles. Schedule varies. Ends Nov. 7. $36. (866) 811-4111 or thelatc.org/upcoming-shows/enriques-journey/. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.