Refuge, the wrenching portrait of a Central American woman’s effort to reach the U.S. receiving its midwest premiere at Theo Ubique, is less a play than a ritual with music enacting displacement, loss, and fear—but also love and the determination to go on. So my not understanding the two-thirds of the dialogue delivered in Spanish didn’t interfere with my grasp of the experience, but I did find it alienating, which was no doubt the point: among the first words in English were, “We must not fear what we cannot understand.” It was clear that “Girl,” disguised as a boy, stumbles across the desert border onto the ranch of a man mourning the death of his daughter at the hands, as he thinks, of a migrant. Once he penetrates her disguise, though, he begins to treat Girl as the daughter he lost, despite his friendship with the Border Patrol officer tracking her. Every character struggles with conflicting loyalties, so there’s no easy resolution. And, like every artwork concerned with justice, the people who really need to see it will never do so.
Through 11/13: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 6 PM, Howard Street Theatre, 721 Howard, Evanston, 773-939-4101, theo-u.com, $45-$55 (optional dinner from Taco Diablo available for $30 per person; must be ordered with reservation)
Having said that: the piece, cowritten, codirected, and music directed by Satya Jnani Chávez, (they collaborated with Andrew Rosendorf on the story, and with Valen-Marie Santos on direction) is stunningly beautiful both visually and aurally. As the Girl, Tatiana Bustamante is appealing without being saccharine, and Bill Kalinak likewise gives the Rancher complexity so we see his humor and his rage as well as his tenderness. The puppets created by Adolfo Romero representing the dog, the wolf, the vulture, and the snake seem as real as any person. (Aida Palma Carpio is credited as the snake puppeteer, while the ensemble shares the work of animating the others.) And the voices are breathtaking. If I left this fine work feeling unsatisfied, that’s probably because the situation being portrayed is so far from satisfactory.