Rome at the End of the Line: Theater Review

Andrea Lopez
Lively and haunting production from Mexico of an accomplished (if derivative) text, performed in Spanish with English supertitles.

Playwright Daniel Serrano continues his trilogy, "Impossible Cities (Ciudades Imposibles)," with a meditation on the passage of time.

At its most elemental level, theater can deploy the simplest of means to convey universal themes across cultures and languages. This show stirs strong spiritual identification with a culture far removed from Los Angeles and yet intensely present in the life of our city. Though quite specific to its rural Mexican location, it is nevertheless readily accessible while still managing a complex response to an essential philosophical crisis of everyone’s existence.

Two 13-year old girls, Evangelina (Norma Angélica) and Emilia (Julieta Ortiz), bored and stranded in their isolated rural village, hang out by the railroad tracks and scheme to hop a train to their imagined promised land, the city of Rome. The arc follows them at six points in their lives, ending in their eighties, an echo of Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man, always dreaming of a different life, one with options beyond the bleak ones of subservient marriage, omnipresent violence and grinding poverty. In each chapter, the roar of the passing train amplifies both their hopes and their horrors.

Their existential stasis and spiritual solitude conjures Samuel Beckett, yet tethered to a social consciousness rooted in specific eras of Mexican history, although no topical references are provided to highlight this timeline for the audience, underlining that this awareness is not available to the characters, either. So too the drollery of optimism in the face of unyielding meaninglessness provides a leavening humor that propels each scene.

The two actresses age across the action through gesture, costume and movement, displaying sustained charm and protean technique, appropriately founded more upon the commedia than Beckett’s music hall. There is perhaps a tendency to underline mannerisms with outsized vocal and physical expressions, appropriate in the sense that this suggests the naïve culture of the women who, especially when younger, conceive of emotions in broader terms.

The English supertitles effectively convey the full range of meaning in the text, although even Spanish speakers may be grateful for them, given the rough-hewn accents of the characters. 

Daniel Serrano’s two-hander is part of his trilogy Impossible Cities (Ciudades Imposibles). With this show, the 24th Street Theatre continues its estimable presentations of contemporary Spanish-language co-productions with international companies in service both to the theatre community and its local population.

Venue: 24th Street Theatre (Through Oct. 7)
Cast: Norma Angélica, Julieta Ortiz
Director: Alberto Lomnitz
Writer: Daniel Serrano
Lighting Design: Lomnitz, Ismael Carrasco
Movement Design: Isabel Romero
Costume Design: Adriana Olivera
Sound Design: Alejandro Lopez Velarde, Javier de la Peza
Presented by Viaje Redondo Productions in association with Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana and Consejo Nacional Para La Cultura y Las Artes.