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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Song for the Disappeared

It's funny, how people think we are safe on this side. Talking about the crime in Mexico. The violence on the other side, the killings south of us, the balaceras over there, as if that little wire fence could keep this monster away. Stupid gringos.
— Mila

 Song for the Disappeared
L to R Vivia Font, Christina Nieves, Annie Dow, Felipe Gorostiza
(Photo credit: Michael Goldstein)
For its first production of its thirtieth anniversary season, Trenton's Passage Theater is presenting the world premiere of a fine new play that combines humor with a horrifying event. Perhaps more importantly, it is also a glimpse into traditional family values in a Mexican family that are quite different from our own even amidst familial discord. As the second play in a proposed trilogy by lauded Mexican-born, Chicago-based playwright Tanya Saracho, Song for the Disappeared brings a fresh and bracing perspective to how we see the lives of various members of a wealthy family in McAllen, Texas, close to the border.

And this play, as did El Nogalar the first play in the trilogy, continues to examine as well as embrace the issues within the Mexican caste system and the social subtleties that remain a wedge in a complex society. Although it is not a sequel to El Nogalar (of which Saracho says was inspired by Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and had its premiere at the Goodman Theater in Chicago in 2012,)

Song for the Disappeared continues to reveal with a different set of characters more of her theme. It does continue to reveal and contend with the crime element and the devastating cartels that have affected so many Mexican lives.

A tragedy might be avoided, as we meet the members of the Cantu family all of whom have been summoned to the ranch by Leo (Felipe Gorostiza) the family patriarch. News has reached him that his son Javi has been missing for two days with evidence leading to the assumption that he may have been kidnapped for ransom. Following the death of his wife, Leo has only recently married his skittish but also very shapely/sexy secretary Mila (Annie Dow.) His beautiful trophy wife is escorted back to the ranch house that she has redecorated in her own somewhat tacky image by Mario (Thomas Christopher Nieto) the family's bodyguard and born-again Christian.

Living alone in the house is the youngest daughter Nena (Christina Nieves) who everyone refers to as being delicate. She has apparently been getting along fine taking her medication and caring for injured birds and small animals that she keeps in shoe boxes. more unsettling is the reluctant return of the older sister Adriana (Vivia Font) who has had little to do with the family since she left Mexico and became a published author of a book that apparently exposes the narcos operations on the US/Mexican border. The family rightfully presumes that the notoriety of the book might have made them a target. It is with Adriana's arrival that the pulse and the pace of the play is picked up as see the impact of Adriana's visible and risible condescending attitude toward everyone and to everything she left behind.

Whats funny is that it almost goes unnoticed by the blissfully detached but hardly ditsy Mila. It doesn't get by Leo who is shocked by Adriana's course American euphemisms and the lack of respect for him, calling him Dad, instead of Papi. Adriana does have an affectionate, long standing rapport with Nena ( a subdued and lovely performance by Christina Nieves.) Except for the wild dogs, Nena is oblivious to the dangers that lurk outside. How these family members interact with each other becomes as paramount as their coming up with a plan that will bring their missing brother home. Driven more by its characters than by its plot, the play gives evidence and insights of changing mores and times and the importance of family bonds.

Saracho, who founded the Chicago-based all-Latina women Teatro Luna in 2000 and has had many of her plays produced to acclaim at many of the regional theaters, has a distinctive voice that resonates with authority. This play seems both authentic as well as audacious. The inherent fear of the family for the worst to happen and their hope for the best is mainly experienced through their testy and troubled relationships. The performances, under Alex Correia's deft direction, are all good with some standouts. Dow is terrific as Mila and is close enough to parody with her hot body in constant to put us off our guard. Font is perfect as the too-good-for-this-family Adriana. Gorostiza fumes as Leo and Nieto is on guard as the devoted and unruffled Mario.

The interior of the ranch house and its exterior porch with their arched doorways are the splendid work of set designer German Cardenas-Alaminos. The final play in the trilogy is still to be written, but I'm quite sure it will show us even more illuminating aspects of our neighbors south of the border.

Song for the Disappeared by Tanya Saracho Directed by Alex Correia

Cast: Annie Dow (Mila De Cantu), Viva Font (Adriana Cantu), Felipe Gorostiza (Leo Cantu), Thomas Christopher Nieto (Mario Payan), Christina Nieves (Nena Cantu)
Scenic Design: German Cardenas-Alaminos
Lighting Design: Paul Kilsdonk
Costume Design: Robin I. Shane
Sound Design: Bill Kirby
Production Manager: Steve Howe
Production Stage Manager: Brittany Giles-Jones
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes no intermission
Passage Theater, 205 East Front Street, Trenton, N.J.
(609) 392 - 0766
Tickets: $20.00 - $35.00
Performances: Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm.
From 10/08/15 Opened 10/10/15 Ends 10/25/15
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 10/10/15
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