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Updated Friday, November 9, 2012 at 05:46 PM

Teatro Línea de Sombra's 'Amarillo' an unsparing look at immigrants' journey

By Misha Berson
Seattle Times theater critic

As politicians struggle with or evade the complex issue of U.S.-Mexico immigration, the leading Mexican theater company Teatro Línea de Sombra vividly maps the human tribulations of those who attempt to enter this country illegally, and perish, or simply vanish, en route.

The sensibility of the visceral piece "Amarillo," which runs at On the Boards through Sunday, is in sync with much of serious Mexican art: raw, tragic, unsparing, poetic, vibrant. Prominent Mexican director Jorge A. Vargas draws from a global avant-garde theater trove, layering live video with film projections, everyday objects used as symbolic props, abstract monologues (with English titles) and a stunning physicality that burns with urgency.

One actor in the ensemble plays an impoverished Mexican Everyman willing to walk through deserts, ride the rails and risk or abandon his family and roots to get "a little piece" of the American dream. Over the course of the show he will rappel up and slam against a wall, race in circles, pile on and tear off clothes, succumb to dehydration, speak of the woman he left behind. He will confront us with being, and defy us not to care about him.

His journey (and the show itself) does not, however, proceed in linear fashion. Nor does it delve into the causes of such risky and frequent migration, or judge it.

What is offered is a kind of real-time collage, constructed on the spot, and brilliantly mapped out from a camera on the ceiling. The effect of the multimedia onslaught, and the harsh human dilemma, can be overwhelming.

But there is so much here that is stunning, vital, unforgettable: the eerie, rumbling live score performed by a Mexican "throat singer." The ferocity of women voicing their own anguish over husbands and fathers who depart with no trace, dancing their rage in hot-pink and orange skirts. The grainy photos of the real disappeared, the testimony of survivors, the bundling up of clothing belonging to a deceased "John Doe." The creation of a sand painting, and the rows of plastic bottles set aglow with flashlights.

Ultimately "Amarillo" does what the best sort of political/topical theater and, in Grotowski's mandate, "poor theater," can do: slam you in the solar plexus, activate your senses, surprise and disturb you, while connecting you to an existential reality that is not your own but must be acknowledged.

"Who am I? Nobody," the Everyman says repeatedly. "Amarillo" turns him and legions of others into a somebodies.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES

'Amarillo'

8 p.m. nightly through Sunday, On the Boards, 100 W. Roy St., Seattle; $25 (206-217-9888 or www.ontheboards.org).

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