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Posted: Thursday, Jul. 17, 2008

A moving tale of lives in ‘Limbo'

By Lawrence Toppman
Published in: Lawrence Toppman

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Why do you go to a play? To be swept up in an escapist narrative that gives two hours of relief from your daily grind? Or to be swept into a culture that lurks in the shadows of your own and wants to immerse you in its complicated reality?

If the latter, you have two weeks to get to the CAST production of “Limbo.” I'd go tonight, because the subject of Glenn Hutchinson's theatrical collage – Marie Gonzalez, a young Missouri woman fighting deportation – will be in the audience and take questions afterward. But this blend of dance, music, video, real memories and invented incidents will be vivid after she's gone.

On one level, the story couldn't be simpler: Her parents came from Costa Rica in 1991, when Marie was 5 years old, and never became citizens. Her dad eventually became a courier for the governor of Missouri, but her parents were sent back after another member of the Latino community phoned immigration authorities. Marie wanted to stay in the only land she remembered and has been given permission to finish college, though she may have to leave in 2009.

Yet the play demands we ask complex questions. Should parents' legal sins be visited on kids who had no hand in the decision to immigrate and may not have known anything was wrong? Should such children be allowed to finish school and move quickly toward citizenship? Why should those who marry legal residents get a free path to citizenship, while those who wish only to become citizens have a much harder time?

UNCC professor Hutchinson interweaves Marie's experiences with similar situations. He dutifully acknowledges the views of people who don't want laws broken or fear that unlimited immigration will tax America's natural and financial resources beyond endurance. But he clearly favors the character of Marie (ardently played by Brenda Giraldo) and others in such dilemmas.

Director Michael Simmons wraps us in a multimedia experience before the first word is spoken. Dancers swirl across the black-box theater to salsa strains as we enter. (On opening night, audience members flowed down to dance to the same kind of music as soon as the play ended!) Then dancers in native costumes stamp out new rhythms, before a singer comes on to lament in Spanish.

You'll have no trouble following dialogue as it shifts between languages; Marie almost always speaks English, perhaps to emphasize how much she's at home in America. And even if you're unfamiliar with Latino-themed art, you'll appreciate the vast murals in the lobby and on the set by Peruvian-born Carlos Herrera Burgos.

They combine Aztec, Mayan and Incan influences with modern U.S. culture, in the kind of assimilation the play asks us to embrace. By a trick of fate too cruel to be called ironic, these murals – intended for a building near Eastland Mall that was later sold – now have no permanent home.

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