Wednesday, May 05, 2010

De Novo

photo: Alyssa Ringler

The message is blunt and the conclusion is forgone, but the 70-minute documentary drama De Novo is nonetheless absorbing and effective. The show, part of the Americas Off Broadway festival at 59e59, is scripted entirely from court transcripts, letters and interviews concerning the judicial treatment of a Guatemalan teenager who fled his country once marked for death (at the age of 14) by street gangs. Both a bracing glimpse into the life of an undocumented immigrant minor, and a maddening look at the tragic consequences of our immigration laws, the play is purposeful and unblinking. Despite its exclusive use of found texts, it's brought to life with just enough theatricality to involve as drama rather than simply as an informative, well-meaning lesson. The budget is modest but the choices are rich - boxes of government files upstage, and clotheslines clipped with court papers on each side of space, make us always aware that this story is, unfortunately, not unique. Even more effective is the use of Donna DeCesare's graphic images of gang culture, which vividly remind us what is at stake.

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