By Steven Robert Allen
At the 10 a.m. matinee, I found myself floating in the middle of a noisy sea of high schoolers from Cibola and West Mesa. Yikes! Modern experimental theater isn't easy for a lot of adults to handle. For most high school kids, it seems like an experience close to torture.
At least that was the impression I got from the three girls seated directly behind me. "I don't get it," said one of them at least half a dozen times during the show. Her friends apparently agreed.
"This is so weird."
"What's going on?"
"I'm so confused."
Ordinarily, this sort of yapping in the middle of a performance would've irritated me. In this case, though, I enjoyed seeing the play partially through their eyes. It made me realize that Highway 47—an original play produced by Working Classroom that recently had a brief run at the South Broadway Cultural Center—isn't easy to swallow for those who aren't used to this sort of thing. Fragmented and nonlinear, writer and director K.J. Sanchez tells of a land dispute in the tiny community of Tomé, located just south of Albuquerque. Sanchez rarely resorts to the easy clichés of traditional storytelling.
The play begins by describing life in the community, presenting an almost romanticized view of small-town New Mexican life. A long sheet of white butcher paper runs across the stage representing the highway that runs through the middle of town. From the late '60s through the '90s, a complicated feud involving an old Spanish land grant turns neighbor against neighbor. As the tight-knit community cannibalizes itself, Sanchez' idealized portrait turns nasty. She symbolizes this by having the characters tear the paper highway to bits.
The three girls behind me made me realize that this is probably a tough play for those unfamiliar with contemporary theater. Even so, Highway 47 is very good theater. You could even call it essential theater. The cast mixes old pros like the Tricklock Company's Chad Brummett with talented Working Classroom high school performers like Gabriela Mayorga. Across the board, these were sold performances.
More importantly, Highway 47 represents a variety of theater we just don't see enough of in this town. You don't see a lot of experimental performances exploring our regional history, cultures and concerns. This is the sort of theater that can actually give the audience a greater connection to its immediate environment.
The three girls weren't so lucky, of course, but I'm still sad this show only ran for two weeks. Highway 47 should really tour theaters around the state. Hopefully someone will figure out a way to come up with the financing to make this happen. For more information, log onto www.workingclassroom.org or call 242-9267.
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