A man goes into the desert and dies … or dreams. Storywise, that’s it. But this spare scenario allows for kinetic visual imagery and a series of bilingual monologues to anchor Teatro Linea de Sombra’s Amarillo. The setup merely explains that people vanish — physically, spiritually, metaphorically — for all sorts of reasons. They could be fed up. They could be worn down. They could be lost.
The six-person Mexican company, which has toured this acrobatic musing on disappearance and disillusionment to festivals worldwide, doesn’t pretend to have an answer or a linear story to tell. The ensemble simply knows something is wrong here.
Teatro Linea de Sombra trots out characters for riveting, pent-up protests against an unfeeling world that barely acknowledges their existence. They own the stage for a brief moment, then shrink and disappear into vast landscapes painted with video, much of it captured live during the performance, on the wall behind them.
The main character goes missing for much of the play, after announcing his intention to head across the Mexican border to Amarillo, Texas. He never makes it. We see him crumble into the dust, his tragedy balanced by the thought that he might finally be at peace. Then we start hearing about the suffering and defiance of the people this man has left behind.
Amarillo‘s air of anguished uncertainty denies us the comfort of a structured story. Occasionally actors break character to rally the crowd with information linking the impassioned monologues of Amarillo to real-world social-justice initiatives. At one point, we watch female characters making crafts, pining poetically for the fathers or brothers no longer around to help provide for their families. Both verbally and visually, we’re directed both verbally and visually to the website of a cooperative of Mexican artisans who sell their jewelry online.
Amarillo falls into the current vogue of performers enveloping their performances with giant projected video-images. In Amarillo, the back wall of the stage transforms into a floor, a city street, a vast sandy plain. A bright prop on the ground becomes a beacon on the backdrop. To their credit, Teatro Linea de Sombra doesn’t rely only on the video element. Director Jorge A. Vargas’ actors clamber up and down metal rungs on the projection wall. Since the backdrop largely sticks to blacks and whites and grays, the sensation of three female dancers in colorful gowns and heavy workboots provides a kicky splash of color late in the show.
Elsewhere, we’re treated to a mixture of natural and abstract elements: a rainstorm of one-gallon water jugs, a desert of plastic baggies of sand.
The technical aspects can get loose — typos in the supertitles, swaying cameras, video imagery captured live then plopped grandly on the wall, warts and all. Some of the images get piled on rather thickly. Halfway through this hour-long multimedia burst of grief-stricken community-gathering, I despaired of the narrative ever finding its way back to the direct, radiant message of exasperation and exploration with which it began. Yet it does, with a conclusion that might even be described as upbeat. Ultimately, Amarillo adds up to more than a revue of video interactions and unearthly wails in the dark.
Amarillo. RADAR L.A. Through June 19. http://www.redcat.org/radar-la/teatro-linea-de-sombra