Updated: Feb 26, 2020
A fine cast of two bring to life a harrowing new play about America's border policies. Despite the violence, Lunatic 19s has a warm heart.
Tegan McLeod's play, Lunatic 19s, tells the story of a young woman who is being deported back 'from whence you came'. The fact that the place she grew up, Mexico, hasn't been her home for twenty years is of little significance to the ICE marshal transporting her. Gracie (Gabriela Garcia) has lost all her rights under a new executive order (executive order 19) that stipulates any illegal immigrant found to have subsequently broken the law will be immediately deported. Her crime? Returning a rental car late.
It starts in a hospital where Gracie has endured a near fatal car crash, leaving her in a head brace with nineteen screws in her cranium. When Alec (Devon Anderson) first comes to detain her, she thinks he must be a clown come to cheer her up. As Gracie is thrown into the back of a van, still in her hospital gown and obstructive brace, it is horrible to think these really are the people America consider to be alien threats to the country.
What follows is a ninety minute drama that considers a vast range of topics. There are references to America's opioid addiction, the price of health insurance, PTSD in war veterans, miscarriage, immigration and border control. Whilst the latter is in full focus throughout, as Gracie is dragged across the states in the back of a van, the rest are touched upon to flesh out their characters, and show that despite Alec's protestations that they are different, there is much common ground between them.
It is a credit to the actors that this show is gripping right the way through. Especially Garcia, who squeezes every drop from her lines to invoke a gut wrenching reaction. Her Gracie is full of energy, attacking the ICE marshal with biting sarcasm. For his part, Alec, is clinging to the idea that he is an all-American worker, despite Gracie guessing he is of Mexican descent. Anderson grapples well with the conflicting emotions of a man incapable of looking too deeply into his job, perhaps afraid of what he knows to be there.
Carla Goodman's rusted red stage is bare. It is up to the audience's imagination to see the van, the bumps in the road, the toilets, the hospital beds. Imagining Gracie's tender head being bounced around the back of a van and slammed against walls is excruciating, and ultimately proves more effective than if the stage had been a cluttered, naturalistic presentation of place.
There are some moments I struggle to get my head round. The final third throws some dramatic twists that, without giving too much away, seem out of character for someone who has just experienced a near fatal car crash and is still nursing the wounds. Despite my concerns this piece is an excellent dissection of the absurdly vicious and inhumane reality of America's immigration policies. When Gracie tells us that 'this is now', I believe her.
Lunatic 19s: A Deportational Road Trip is on at The Finborough Theatre until the 3rd August.
Tickets available here - https://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2019/lunatic19s.php
Photos by Marian Medic.