Barclay Goldsmith was clearly proud.
The founder of Borderlands Theater was on stage after Friday’s opening night of its current production and introduced the four playwrights in attendance.
Four playwrights. That represents a lot of new theater, a lot of new thought.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” said Goldsmith. “It was a very moving evening for me.”
Two of those playwrights had full productions that premiered Friday: “Maria’s Circular Dance” by Medardo Treviño, and “Trash,” by Kara Hartzler. Guillermo Reyes and Milta Ortiz were also on stage..
Reyes wrote “They Call Me A Hero” about Daniel Hernandez, the intern who helped save Gabrielle Giffords’ life. A staged reading is slated for Saturday.
Ortiz is writing “The Criminalization of Knowledge,” about the demise of Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program. Borderlands has not yet scheduled a reading.
Goldsmith has reason to be proud. Most of Borderlands plays this season have been premieres. There is not another theater in town — I’m willing to bet the state — that shows that kind of courage and commitment.
Goldsmith doesn’t see it as anything but essential.
“It’s for the ongoing life of the theater,” he said.
“We have a duty to be diverse and to nurture young playwrights, or established playwrights that need to have their works seen. It helps to diversify audiences in age and along cultural lines.”
The staged plays that opened Friday and the readings this month are part of Borderland’s “Encuentros en La Frontera/Encounters at the Borderline,” which brought together artists from Mexico and this country to work on the new plays.
The “Encuentros” has been almost two years in the planning, said Goldsmith. Working with Mexico City’s El Circulo Teatral, playwrights were found, actors from here and Mexico hired, readings and re-writes were done. After “Maria’s Circular Dance” and “Trash” close here, they head south for a run at El Circulo.
When new works are first staged, the playwrights often do rewrites — a play may look great on paper but not play well to an audience.
And that’s the case with the one-acts that opened Friday.
“Maria’s Circular Dance” is about a Colombian woman who has been kidnapped while searching for her son. As the play unrolls we discover she is not the only victim here, and some awful fate awaits her. Meanwhile, her kidnapper wrestles with his conscience, and they both seem to weave in and out of dreams.
The play was convoluted, abrupt and not successful.
“Trash,” about a detainee — possibly our murderous kidnapper in the first play — has revealed secrets about drugs and killers and crimes in Mexico and hopes for asylum in the U.S. He and his guard, a border patrol agent, flirt and fight and ultimately are at odds.
“Trash” is didactic and at times bizarre.
Both these plays need work, for clarity, dramatic tension, and stronger arcs.
But here’s the thing: What Borderlands is doing is important. Even when plays don’t work, such as these, the fact that new works are being nurtured is thrilling. And necessary.