In the chaos of what is laughingly termed ‘political discourse’ in the U.S., words like ‘Dream Act,’ and ‘we did it the right way’ fly through the air in various tones of self-righteousness. But how many of us know how these words play out in real life. In 72 Miles to Go..., now playing Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels Theatre, playwright Hilary Bettis introduces us to a Mexican family caught in the mangle of hypocrisy and red tape that is America’s ‘path to citizenship.’ This family lives in two worlds at once. The mother Anita is stuck in Nogales, Mexico as punishment for trying to cross illegally into the U.S. Her husband Billy is left to fend for himself and the children in Tucson, Arizona. Just 72 miles separate them, but it might as well be 7,200. As the play moves through the years from 2008-2016, we witness lives under constant strain. In addition to living one paycheck away from financial ruin, they are one ICE visit away from deportation.
Triney Sandoval gives an excellent performance as the beleaguered father Billy. Living on a diet of mayonnaise and bad puns, he does his best to feed them all, body and soul, keeping it together until he can be reunited with his wife. Their relationship consists of brief phone calls, where tender words have to stand in for warm hugs. As Anita, Maria Elena Ramirez conveys kindness, wisdom and humanity despite the actress appearing primarily as a disembodied voice on speakerphone.
The actors playing their children are also terrific. Bobby Moreno as Christian, the stepson whose time in Iowa has isolated him further from his mother feels her absence most keenly. He paces the stage, a caged forlorn animal. Younger son Aaron at age 14 has lived his most impressionable years under the strain of his mother’s quarantine. Anxiety runs through him like a spark. Tyler Alvarez does an impressive job folding this hyper energy into his various selves as he moves from boy to man.
The most remarkable performance is that of Jacqueline Guillén as Eva. From her first step onstage Guillén grabs one’s full attention. There is so much to this girl. Along her precipitous character arc Guillén captures Eva’s complexity in a nuanced performance that peels away layer after layer of character.
Set designer Rachel Hauck and lighting designer Lap Chi Chu nail the context in a design that conveys both inner and outer worlds, of time and emotion with effective simplicity. Billy preaches from the proscenium, a projection of stained glass gleaming on the wall behind him. Center stage, a simple set doubles as the family’s kitchen and living room in Tucson. A backdrop of four telephone poles, beautifully lit through every season, from cold, moonlit night to softly hued sunrise, conveys Tucson and Mexico, and the distance between. The years and months are projected on the set in subtitles. A few words elide the leapfrogging of the years.
This seamlessness manifests throughout the production. Jo Bonney has directed the actors to behave organically but not to allow for dead space. Pauses might be pregnant, but they are not labored. You can feel her confidence with the material and the honesty with which she and the cast have approached it. 72 Miles to Go... is the kind of play we need to see, telling a story that needs retelling. Take a minute to reflect the next time Starbucks gets your coffee order wrong. Indeed, think of this family the next time you say the words ‘see you soon.’
(Photo by Jeremy Daniel)
"They are such ordinary people with such unremarkable dreams. And if Hilary Bettis’s 72 Miles to Go... is a quiet, conventional drama with a penchant for endearingly cornball humor, that suits the story of a family that wants more than anything to blend in, to live regular American lives. The play’s poignancy lies in how mercilessly difficult that is, and how precarious for all of them."
Laura Collins-Hughes for New York Times
"Directed with workmanlike precision by Jo Bonney on a modest unit set by Rachel Hauck, 72 Miles to Go… delivers its worthwhile message ready-made. Challenging audiences to meet the play halfway might have made the journey more compelling."
Naveen Kumar for Time Out New York
"Jo Bonney’s direction emphasizes the play’s episodic nature and sitcom humor. There are some unnecessary detours taken, but Bettis’ big moments remain devastating to watch."
Robert Hofler for The Wrap