Review by Tulis McCall
(5 May 2010)
If I am correct, 'De Novo' means “Again,” which is a sad comment on the state of things in our immigration system. This is something that we all know, of course, and have only to look at the recent demonstrations in opposition to Arizona’s new “stop if you look suspicious but not of course if you simply look Latino because that would be racial profiling” law.
Here, as presented by Houses on The Moon Theater Company as part of the Americas Off Broadway we follow the trail of Edgar Chocoy-Guzman, a kid who fell into drug smuggling, because it was a local gang activity, and he joined the gangs because he didn’t have a family life to speak of, because his mother left him and his brother with her parents when she came to the United States to find work, because she couldn’t find work at home in Guatemala, because the whole country is still a mess because of the war that started back in 1954 and was funded in part by our CIA.
Get the picture?
The text of the play is taken from court transcripts and is edited down to a fluid 70 minutes that lay out the path Edgar followed until it swallowed him up. Part fear, part adventure, and part revenge after gang members killed his brother – Edgar’s is a life that is repeated over and over again. These are young men with no education, no jobs, no respect. The only security they have is what their respective gangs provide. They cycle of crime and incarceration is just that – a cycle. It is a holding pattern that is broken only when one of them gets out by some miracle or when one of them gets deported back to whence they came.
Because their home country’s gangs label them as runaways, they are marked for death, as was Edgar. He died a teenager.
The negative to this narrative is obvious. There is no hope. There is only the unrelenting violence and inadequate support for these kids. It is suffocating to watch, and it is real. Court systems are slow to the point of stultification. Teenagers are kept in prison for months or years while their appeals make it up the ladder of the system. Eventually they may ask to be sent home and face execution because it cannot be worse than rotting in prison.
Edgart was not exceptional. He was a sort of average kid. Carried guns but didn’t kill anyone. Carried drugs but didn’t sell them. He was a middle of the road kind of guy who fell under the wheels of fate. Just like George Bush, they tell us, who recruited more soldiers when he needed to go to Iraq. Gangs are the same.
Except they aren’t. They are allowed to grow like a pestilence among populations about which the CEO’s or business and government don’t care. They have no value, except as humans, and that is little.
This is a story that will make you want to leave the theatre for a breath of spring air – which is sort of its intent, but also its weakness. The door at the top of the dark stairway must at least be unlocked for us to venture up. This company has accomplished the first task by getting us to look. They do so dispassionately and without blame, but their vision of a remedy, if they have one, is lost in translation.