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De Novo

Jeffrey Solomon's docudrama about underage immigrants is an effective example of the genre. logo
Jose Aranda and Carlo D'Amore in De Novo
(© Alyssa Ringler)
De Novo, curated, written and directed by Jeffrey Solomon and now at 59E59 Theatres, is one of those theater pieces that comes with projected statistics. It's less a fully realized play than a docudrama or public-service message -- in this case, about underage children who slip across the border as illegal immigrants and are eventually caught, jailed and, after adjudicated hearings, are either given asylum or sent back to their native country. But there's no question that the presentation is an effective example of the genre.

The work specifically focuses on what happened to Edgar Humberto Chocoy Guzman (Jose Aranda), who arrived in the United States from Guatemala when he was 16 and, not speaking English and having little recourse to legitimate employment, fell in with a California gang, was soon jailed, threatened with being deported, and pleaded in court to be allowed to remain stateside.

Chocoy's defense -- presented by his extremely sympathetic lawyer (Emily Joy Weiner) -- is that he fled his homeland after attempting to leave a gang he'd joined there, and, as a result, was targeted for death by former gang members. As he tells his story through interpreters (much of the dialogue, all taken from primary sources, is in Spanish) -- and as his mother Margarita (Socorro Santiago) and others supplement his testimony -- it doesn't take long for the audience to see where this plea for more compassion and understanding is headed.

Once Edgar chooses being sent back to Guatemala over remaining in a Colorado detention center, what's in store for him is hardly surprising. His fate is made even more graphic by way of the many graphic -- not to say brutal -- Donna DeCesare photographs shown on the upstage screen along with those sobering lost-children numbers. The faces of the cocky, usually heavily tattooed young men DeCesare has caught on film are also the faces of the doomed.

In addition, what look to be court records, interviews, police reports and the like are clipped to wires like so much only partially clean laundry. The impression given is that the company has only randomly chosen to report Edgar's plight at the performance the audience is attending, and that numerous other stories are equally handy for the recounting.

Aranda, Santiago, Wener, and fellow cast member Carlo D'Amore are all convincing avatars of the people portrayed, even as they constantly shift identities, often simply by draping cards around their necks that say judge or, in one instance, donning a Lacoste alligator to stand for the good clothes that Margarita sends Edgar from the States where she's gone to make money for her family.

Indeed, at the end of the hour in which De Novo takes to unfold, you will very likely feel moved emotionally. But you may also very likely feel moved to write your Congressperson, get out your checkbook, and take part in an anti-immigration law demonstration.

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