In recent years it has been widely noted that political satire, via fake news online and on TV, is more difficult to convey because the real headlines coming out of Washington, D.C., the state capitals and on the campaign trail have become increasingly and head-shakingly unreal.
Deferred Action, a world premiere co-production about immigration between Dallas Theater Center and Chicano group Cara Mía Theatre Company now playing at the Wyly Theatre in Dallas, isn’t striving for satire — it’s very much taken from interviews with real people and today’s headlines — but it’s easy to see where the two politicians in the story are composites that are not cartoonish. Real life has truly become stranger than fiction.
The play is wackiest in the final scene, which sets up a continuing story. That makes sense because Deferred Action is the second in a trilogy about immigration. The first was The Dreamers: A Bloodline, which Cara Mía premiered in 2013 at the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas. It was written by David Lozano and the company, and was a harrowing, violent drama about women making the dangerous trek from El Salvador to Texas with their young children.
Deferred, set in a North Texas city in primary season, was co-written by Lozano and DTC’s Lee Trull and directed by Lozano. It focuses on Javi, who was one of those kids who made it to America, and is now a young man, played by Cara Mía company member Ivan Jasso.
He’s a Dreamer — he wasn’t born here, has excellent grades and has been living in constant fear of deportation, even after President Obama’s executive action in 2014.
He was raised by Abue (Frida Espinosa-Müller), and is engaged to Lisa (Elizabeth Ramos), who works for Nancy (Christie Vela), a Mexican-American congresswoman with big political aspirations. Rodney Garza is immigration attorney Carrasquillo and Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso plays Javi’s friend, Ximena.
When Javi and his friend Robby (Arturo Soria) are stopped for speeding, Robby records the conversation between Javi and a white cop. The video goes viral, and Javi is thrust into the heated immigration debate between Nancy and Dale Jenkins (Michael Brusasco), a Tea Party politician.
Over a series of short scenes (more than 30 of them), Lozano and Trull balance the hot-button and passionate debate between the Latino characters and the politicians with documentarian flair. They poetically use flashbacks to the baby Javi’s difficult journey from Central America, adding context for those who haven’t seen the first installment.
There is some family melodrama but the writers focus on the big issue through some surprising and funny plot twists. If you think this is going to be a left-leaning lambast of the anti-immigration stance that has become even bigger with Donald Trump’s wall promises, you’ll be surprised.
The work has been in development for years, but it was most molded by the fact that immigration reform has not passed on either side of the aisle.
Still, Deferred Action makes a compelling case, via Javi — who’s considered perfect for the debate because he’s “clean-cut” — for America being a harbor for the tired, weary and huddled masses yearning to break free.
With the exception of Soria, Ramos and Brusasco, the cast is split between DTC and CMTC company members, with most of them playing multiple characters. Epsinosa-Müller continues her streak of great performances as Abue, and the role of Javi is perfect for Jasso, a compelling leading man with depth.
The role of Dale was conceived by DTC company member Steven Michael Walters but it might as well have been written for Brusasco, terrific as one of those politicians you can’t stop watching even as the latest train wreck that comes out of his mouth is bigger than the previous one.
Timothy R. Mackabee’s set of massive panels at the back and sides of the proscenium configuration evokes a totalitarian interrogation room with entryways — and perhaps Trump’s wall.
It remains to be seen if the third installment will have DTC involvement or go back to being a Cara Mía project, but Deferred Action definitely creates interest for it.