Finborough Theatre, London – until 3 August 2019
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past three years, you will have undoubtedly been exposed to the news and images of what’s happened to detainees who the present US Administration classifes as ‘illegal aliens’. In Tegan McLeod’s play Lunatic 19’s, which is directed by Jonathan Martin, we meet a young woman of Hispanic descent who happens to be at the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’.
Gracie Reyes (Gabriella Garcia) wakes up in hospital after a near-fatal automobile collision. But if her circumstances seem pretty bleak, they are nothing compared to what comes next, when an officer from the US. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrives to forcibly take her to Mexico. The fact that she’s lying in a hospital bed, suffering from spinal injuries and prone to haemorrhaging doesn’t deter Alex (Devon Anderson) from removing her from her surroundings.
What gives this tale extra frisson is that the arresting officer is himself Hispanic, so questions hang in the air regarding the reasons why Alec has this job and whether he has empathy for anybody at all. As a character Alec is often direct and makes every effort to refrain from physical contact unless ‘absolutely necessary’. However, the longer he has to deal with the physical repercussions of moving Gracie and treat her as a human being, the more his stoicism is chipped away and he’s reminded of his own sister.
Despite wearing a ‘neck brace’ that limits her movement, there is an element to Garcia’s performance that is rooted in her physicality. Also, she conveys that the nature of Gracie’s circumstances is more psychologically-distressing than the arduous nature of her transportation.
As in all road trips, it’s the journey that’s more important than the destination. In the case of Alec, the route he’s taken many times before takes on an unfamiliarity, as he’s forced to confront what his identity and core beliefs are, and not what the military or government tells him. For Gracie, going back to a country where none of family or friends resides is unthinkable and feels she has nothing to lose by making a break for it. But if she does so, Alec will be punished for not treating her with draconian measures. For both characters, having empathy and a conscience is a damned nuisance.
As for ‘Is Grace in the US legally? She doesn’t belong there’, there is one simple answer. To use an analogy from Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone, a person may be born at a particular place, but if someone else has lived there longer, don’t they belong just as much, if not more so..?
© Michael Davis 2019
Lunatic 19’s runs at Finborough Theatre until 3rd August
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