by Sandi Durell
Those 72 miles can be a short hop and jump or, as in Hilary Bettis’ new play at Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre, an indeterminate unreachable number if you’ve been deported to Nogales, Mexico finding your visa will no longer allow you to return to your family in Tucson, Arizona.
In a Unitarian Church somewhere in Tucson, Billy (played by Triney Sandoval with levity, heart and love) preaches with knowing wisdom about his family, with thoughtfulness of the profound beauty of everyday moments flashing back and forth in scenes between the years 2008-2016.
A young smart, quick-witted daughter Eva (Jacqueline Guillen), is now the caretaker of her family while her mother Anita (Maria Elena Ramirez – voice on the phone whom we meet at the end of the play) has been denied re-entry to the States for 10 years. Young brother Aaron (Tyler Alvarez) is on the wild side, frightened, angry, self-absorbed and having trouble relating to his family. Older brother Christian (Bobby Moreno) is Anita’s first born and when Billy found Anita in the desert and married her, he became a step-father to Christian. Billy is a resilient central family figure with strong religious beliefs.
Anita maintains a powerful presence throughout, albeit over the phone, keeping her children in line and a strong connection to her husband Billy – their ties are the backbone of the family. Christian has already found his love and, as time progresses, has his own children, pressured with his own problems. But he is also an illegal alien (cause for some comic relief and chiding from his younger siblings) while hiding from authorities, having trouble finding work . . . standing outside at Home Depot …”an old lady hit on me. Some kid offered to pay me in tacos if I cleaned his bedroom.”
Years of reflection come and go; Eva, valedictorian of her class giving a poignant speech, going to the prom, denying herself college as she puts her life on hold waiting for her mother’s return, knowing how much Aaron needs her to be present as she makes a decision to work as a waitress to help support the family. Aaron’s pet turtle Esmeralda, his eventual moving on to join the Marines. Billy cooking up and eating his famous over-mayonnaised and salted noodle and tuna dish, celebrating an anniversary with his beloved Anita on the phone, alone.
The scenes fly by quickly, the cast uniformly committed and engaging in this portrayal that is cause for many a sniffel and tear under Jo Bonney’s sensitive direction. Hilary Bettis has crafted a play that balances a complex topic with moments of joy, comedy and a light touch, if one can actually call it that and, as she stated, “a timeless immigrant tale about everyday people wrestling with everyday problems . . . a wide angle view . . . a story that’s been going on for much longer, and many generations before what is happening in our country now.”
Heartfelt, sad moments of a family torn apart; Numerous issues raised about legal vs. illegal entry into the U.S. But it’s the human factor that wins out.
You’ll want to see 72 Miles to Go. . . with scenic design by Rachel Hauck, lighting by Lap Chi Chu, with sound by Elisheba Ittloop and costumes by Emlio Sosa.
Photos: Jeremy Daniel
72 Miles to Go . . . Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46 Street – run time1 hr. 30 min (no intermission) thru May 3