Hilary Bettis. Remember her name.
Bettis’ multilevel script is the star of “The Ghosts of Lote Bravo,” which Borderlands Theater opened Saturday, April 17, in the first of a three-city rolling premiere. Two other theaters in the National New Play Network are staging the piece. Bettis, who attended Saturday’s opening, will be at the opening this weekend at the Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri.
Bettis set her play in Juarez, Mexico, which has the gruesome nickname of “the capital of murdered women.”
She weaves a metaphor-rich tale of the economic and social impact of maquiladoras on impoverished women, personal sacrifice for the greater good, religious and folk beliefs, survival in city ruled by brutal organized crime, and murder in a place where boots are more important than the lives of others.
It’s a disturbing, grim story. However, Bettis infuses the play with happy memories, touches of humor and an overarching sense of hope.
Here are some other reasons to see “The Ghosts of Lote Bravo”:
The setting: Old tires, rusted metal, graffiti, a poster asking “¿Donde Estan?” (Where are they?) and rows of pink crosses with girls’ names scratched into them spill from the stage area onto the floor of the intimate Cabaret Theatre, upstairs at the Temple of Music and Art.
The set puts the audience in Juarez.
Precise lighting helps director Barclay Goldsmith have the actors flow easily between complex scene changes. Action shifts quickly between the present and the previous weeks and days, but there is never any confusion.
The cast: The actors are solid in their roles, helping the develop the characters and advance the story.
Ericka Quintero embraces a mother’s love in her role as Juanda, whose husband was murdered and must toil in a maquiladora making T-shirts with U.S. flags on them.
She brings to the surface the conflict of her Catholic beliefs contrasted against a folk saint and the choices she must make as she tries to eke out food for her young children. Importantly, you can feel her desperation as she struggles to find her teenage daughter who doesn’t come home from work one night.
Perla Vanesa Barraza turns in a powerful, spunky performance as teenage Raquel, who has a humble life dream of being a waitress serving happy people. However, she tumbles between the sheets when she must earn money to help her mother feed her younger brothers.
Barraza has a steely, tiny-but-tough strength as she faces male powers that be.
You might not recognize Alba Jaramillo in her “Diá de los Muertas”-like costume and makeup for her role as Santa Muerte, the folk saint who is said to bring safe delivery to the afterlife.
Jaramillo uses stiff, towering posture and a rhythmic, sarcastic tone to give Santa Muerte an immense, intense presence.
Maria Rebeca Cartes lets her vulnerability show as an older woman stuck in the maquiladora cycle.
Enrique Garcia Naranjo, wannabe skateboard star who has four teardrop tattoos, brings out the internal tenderness of a street-tough kid. Roberto Guajardo shows his comedic and dramatic chops.
Andy Gonzalez and Guillermo Jones each reflect the conflict of men who love their families and are stuck in a cycle of violence and corruption.
“The Ghosts of Lote Bravo” is stomach churning and may bring a tear or two to your eyes. There are blood, sorrow, profanity and interesting plot turns as it exposes ugliness that many won’t want to see.
And it is a beautiful, well-written play that does what theater should — to challenge perspectives and to open new worlds to the audience.
Remember Bettis’ name. We should to see more from her in the future. And we’ll savor every word.