Back in 2009, just as the Dallas Theater Center was moving into its brand new home in the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Wyly Theatre, DTC artistic director Kevin Moriarty sat in the audience for a performance of Cara Mia Theatre Co.’s original production of Crystal City 1969. Although it was his first encounter with the company’s work as well as that of their artistic director David Lozano, he was impressed.
If you have sat through a Cara Mia Theatre production yourself, chances are you too were captivated by the company’s ability to create a highly evocative aesthetic or by the intensely expressive acting style that has come to characterize its performances or maybe by the dedication of their audience.
In the years that followed the initial encounter, Moriarty and Lozano began discussing the possibility of collaborating on an original play. They just needed a subject, a topical subject that represented both theaters' commitment to producing work with a focus on contemporary issues relevant to their audiences.
Lozano and Cara Mia were actually working on an original play of their own when Moriarty initially broached the subject of collaboration. The Dreamers: A Bloodline, which was produced by Cara Mia Theatre in 2013, was the first in what Lozano intends to be a trilogy on immigration. Why not write and produce the second installment of the trilogy together? And why not focus its attention on the plight of the DREAMers, a substantial community of whom live right here in Dallas, currently unsure of what the future holds for them?
Deferred Action, co-written by Lozano and DTC resident company member and playwright/director Lee Trull, is the result of the multi-year collaboration between the two theaters, their artistic directors and the resident companies. It’s the first collaboration of its kind between the city’s most important regional theater and its most influential Latino-focused company, and will be on stage at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Wyly Theatre through May 14.
Deferred Action essentially picks up where The Dreamers left off. While the first play focused on the plight of a mother who fled El Salvador for the U.S. with her child, Deferred Action focuses on the now adult child, a DREAMer. “DREAMer” is the nickname for the thousands of children of illegal immigrants who have been granted a special form of amnesty by the Obama administration commonly referred to as deferred action; they have papers but they’re only temporary citizens.
“This experience is so much a part of so many people living in Dallas in some way,” Lozano says. “[With this play] we are bringing to light the experience of a group of people living right here in our community.”
All of Cara Mia’s productions are developed collaboratively and, apart from the addition of a brand new group of company members, Deferred Action was no different.
“We started with nothing,” Lozano says. The two companies began with a series of workshops; actors created characters and spoke with members of the DREAMer community here in Dallas, before Lozano and Trull took the raw material and began creating storylines and a script from the newly developed characters.
The play follows Javier, a young DREAMer, and his fellow activists as they attempt to parse out their uncertain futures and are caught in the tangled web of national politics.
“We wanted to merge the human with the political,” Lozano says, “but we weren’t backing down from the politics, we just wanted to create a play about the living, breathing human beings caught in the middle."
The result is a tight, political play about the reality of life for the DREAMers as well as the reality of politics in the United States in the 21st century. It captures the frustration inherent to working within the system, especially when there is so much at stake. It deftly portrays the ambiguity of politics and the feeling of being caught in the middle of it all, unsure who to trust but certain something must be done.
It’s a welcome addition into a storied history of American plays designed to humanize a contemporary issue for those without first-hand experience as well as capture the political mood of the country at a moment in time.
It’s also the kind of play that effectively brings home the need the theater community has to reach new audiences. The fact that this play, filled with the bilingual speakers who populate our city, is on stage at the Wyly Theatre is important, something not lost on Lozano who, along with his DTC collaborators, is working tirelessly to get Latino communities and diverse audiences in general into the theater.
Deferred Action is an important play. It represents a long overdue collaboration at the same time as it shines a light on, and provides real context for, a political issue which seems to be tearing this country apart. Don’t miss it.
Deferred Action is on stage at the Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St., through May 14. For tickets, $14-$89, visit attpac.org.