La Ruta is here to break our hearts, make us laugh, and inspire us to step up our Spanglish game. Buzzing of the opening night sparked a familial glow of pride in witnessing the work of acclaimed playwright, Issac Gomez and direction of director and ensemble member, Sandra Marquez. With every ascending floor of the historic Steppenwolf Theatre gained more anticipation for this years-in-the-making story to be told.
Shuffling in, the first thing one might notice is a cluster of pink crosses, nestled in the front far left of the stage. A warmly lit backdrop of a neighborhood lit by a single streetlight, illuminating the musical narrator of La Ruta, Desamaya. The warm earthiness of her voice painted a picture calling us to attention, while holding us safely as we weave through time periods of the 90s.
We travel with the Latinx women-made cast to Juarez, Mexico and its surroundings -- mainly the factory in which a Cuidad Juarez bus route delivers and retrieves its all-female employees. Family connections are revealed, particularly that of mother and daughter. La Ruta bases its story on those of real women who have testified and lost lives due to the disappearances and femicides of Juarez, Mexico, whose testimonies track from 1993 to present day.
Screen projection seemed to perfectly mold the surrounding backdrops of the varying scenes, telling us where in time we were witnessing in relationship to when a disappearance has occurred. Gomez elegantly laces in humor and nostalgia to console us through the heaviness and reality of these women’s fates. Catty young drama, jamming to Selena, and even the subtle appearances of 90s small-but-mighty icons - like a certain color-blocked neon pink and green mascara. Household cultural universalities were shown and shared with a knowing laughter -- particularly the maternal knowing of a lying teenager, and the inevitable shoe that comes off after crossing an auntie. Even down to the slightly-flared, powder blue washed jeans hugging the hip, we were indeed inside the reminiscences of a millennial childhood.
Las Mujeres de Juarez Share Their Voices on Steppenwolf Theatre
The perfect binding from one scene to next, in this writer’s view, was the musical vocal talent shown by each and every character. Whether accompanied on Desamaya’s guitar, or in moving a capella, the seamless singing lived exactly where it was supposed to in the moment, weaving in and out of the scenes.
What seemed to be primarily tear-inducing, was the reiteration of the true stories on which this story was based. Playwright Issac Gomez shares, “Every single woman in this play is based on a real person. And although some names have been changed for their protection, the violence they face and their resilience have not. I have made a promise to these women that their stories would be heard by as many people as humanly possible, and through this world premiere at Steppenwolf, we are one step closer to keeping that promise -- to bear witness and carry their stories forward. As a queer Mexicano from the border, I owe my entire existence to Mexican women. This play is for them. Para todas. Para siempre.”
Gomez has succeeded in hand-delivering the stories of these women with compassion and full awareness in the power of the platform and expertise in craft he possesses.
This play is recommended to anyone who loves women, and anyone who encourages all of their stories to be told.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Charin Alvarez - Marisella
Cher Alvarez - Brenda
Laura Crotte - Desamaya
Alice De Cunha - Woman of Juarez
Sandra Delgado - Yoli
Isabella Gerasole - Woman of Juarez
Mari Marroquin - Zaide
Karen Rodriguez - Ivonne
Regina Garcia -Scenic Design
Christine Pascual - Costume Design
Jesse Klug - Lighting Design
Mikhail Fiksel - Sound Design
Rasean Davonte Johnson - Projection Design
Zacbe Pichardo - Musical Direction
Andra Velis Simon - Vocal Direction
Polly Hubbard - Dramaturg
Gaby Labokta - Fight Choreographer
Gigi Buffington - Company Voice and Text Coach
Christine Freeburg - Stage Manager
Amanda Landis - Assistant Stage Manager
JC Clementz - Casting Director
Greta Honold and Patrick Zakem - Artistic Producers
When: December 13, 2018
Thru: January 27th, 2019
About the Author:
Brittany Harlin is the founding artistic director of Chicago Urban Dance Collective and 2017 recipient of the Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Award. Her influences are Hip Hop and Modern Dance Pioneers. In addition to company work, her dancing and choreography has been featured at Ragdale Foundation, Links Hall, Elastic Arts, Aragon Ballroom, DRAMA Duo Music Productions, Black Ensemble Theatre, and Hip Hop International.
Brittany’s focus is Hip Hop, Modern, Funk Styles, Waacking, and House, combined with growing knowledge of somatics and kinesiology, all through the concert dance lens. Her goal is to bring dance education to a place of complete body awareness, spiritual expression, and connection. Brittany hopes to establish her practice in expressive therapy, creating opportunities, and inclusiveness.
Her teaching artist pedagogy & philosophy are weighted in respecting the integrity of the vernacular movement, by sharing what she’s been taught from respected community members - and stopping exactly there. She relates those concepts to personal natural movement, and the energy of the dancers she’s working with. Her goal is to create solidarity between diverse backgrounds, conducive to the essence and intention of The Hip Hop Socio-Political Movement. Harlin’s passion in dance extends to her community as she has launched her most recent endeavor of teaching professionalism and industry standards to aspiring professional dancers.
When Brittany isn’t dancing, she is supplementing her work with her passions for poetry and songwriting. She’s been referred to as a fawn and a hippie on multiple, separate occasions.