Review: 72 miles to go…at the Alley Theatre

With the exception of a powerful and poignant performance from Orlando Arriaga as Billy, whose paterfamilias tries to bring his family in Tucson, Arizona together during the years when his undocumented wife Anita (Briana J. Resa) is deported to Nogales, Mexico, there’s a fiery touch of honesty to be found. them in ‘Hilary Pettis’ 72 miles to go…

Organized at the 2019 Alley All New Festival after readings in several New York and New Jersey theaters, this honest play is still a work in progress, despite its official premiere at the prestigious Roundabout Theater in Manhattan in February 2020. Unfortunately, the opening At the exact moment COVID closed all theaters. This Alley production is the play’s first true track.

72 miles It covers a tumultuous eight-year period when the Bailey family was at its most disintegrating state. Christian’s stepson (Christopher Salazar), has grown up, of his own and indignant, constantly clashing with Billy. What do you do to bring mom home? is his ugly moan.

Teenage daughter Eva (Melissa Molano), takes on the role of her mother but cringes for her absent mother. She is growing up quickly and needs a comfortable mother’s shoulder that dad cannot provide, no matter how hard it is to sympathize with him. Youngest son Aaron (Juan Sebastian Cruz), bullied at school and missing the distant mother he hardly remembers, teeters emotionally in the shadow of his dominant older brother and feisty sister. Husband Billy misses physical intimacy. With my mom gone, they’re all adrift. Video phone conversations, eagerly awaited, are not satisfying. It worsens the daily condition of the family.

This is rich personal material, but Bettis only excavates the surface, using swathes of view to cover many of the ellipses. In serpentine digressions, we learn that the Christian, who hides in plain sight in the shadows, lives in terror of deportation. He was a baby when Anita fled to the United States. Bailey found them near death in the Sonora desert, married Anita, and adopted a Christian. His son’s caution and aggressiveness is a natural byproduct. Worried, he waits for his DACA’s permission, lives near a cliff, and panics when he hears the police siren at night. Salazar holds these divisions in order, but Bettis doesn’t quite stick. She does not adhere to any of them. Characters fly in uncharted directions, or explode in unprepared spells. It’s impressive, melodramatic, but unfortunately far away.

At first, Molano and Cruz (who later become brilliant as an Afghanistan veteran on the cusp of PTSD) were somewhat mature for playing the teenage roles. In the intimate Newhouse, we are very close to ignoring the theater’s comment about disbelief. In today’s theater, if you’re playing a teenager it’s better to be a teenager.

The small Neuhaus was set up as a theater on the tour. Director Jose Zayas, a close collaborator with Bettis, does not take advantage of the strange spatial problems inherent in this composition. Theater in the course requires movement, a lot of it, so the audience always gets a full view and doesn’t feel cheated. Zayas bans the event as if it were organized inside a theatre. Once the actor turns his back on us, we miss the facial reactions – the actor’s bread and butter – temporarily losing this charged emotional connection. Is that why this play seems one-dimensional?

Pettis skips the years as if he’s scrolling through the pages of a calendar like a montage of Hollywood’s golden age. After a brief power outage, the characters flip through traits and transform into new ones. Babies appear, old flames disappear, prickly properties fade while new ones surprise. Even the theater’s coup d’etat designed by Kevin Rigdon – a 360-degree, luminous, deep desert sky panorama surrounding the theater’s upper perimeter – was revealed very early on. It should amaze us at the climax: surrender (twilight) or perhaps hope (dawn). Very soon, the wonder dissipates.

The play doesn’t flow easily and isn’t helped by the many pregnant pauses that Zayas inserts at the end of the scenes. This theatrical stunt undermines Bettis’ momentum and allows us time to reflect on the script’s most obvious inconsistency. As American citizens, why can’t Dad, Eva, and Aaron get in the car and visit Mom in Mexico anytime they want? Nogales is only a day trip from Tucson. What is stopping them? am I missing something?

Arriaga is the heart of the play. Sturdy and panda-like, all-natural, he keeps this playa afloat effortlessly with his easy, cute style. He’s so cute, you wonder why his kids bother him. We are by his side from the first scene where he preaches his last sermon to the congregation, using my father’s jokes to express his admiration and immediately drawn us into the play. When he’s not in a scene, we miss him.

Except for the final paintings, Anita Risa is a voice on the phone, but her words and diction are cold and distant. They ring false. Where is the warmth, the maternal embrace from afar?

72 miles He has problems. He needs a polish and another eye to guide him smoothly onto the stage. Undoubtedly it is related. But timely national, ethical and moral issues do not always guarantee a compelling drama.

72 miles to go… lasts through November 14, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday; 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; 2:30 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Street. Following COVID protocols, all members of the public must wear masks and show evidence of a negative COVID test within the past 72 hours or proof of vaccination. For more information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.com. $47 – $60.

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