On Friday, March 27, “14,” a dramatic play by José Casas, will make its SUNY New Paltz premiere at Parker Theatre. “14” will be directed by undergraduate Dominique Torrez and played by an all-student cast. The play is formatted as a series of interviews.
Casas’ script is inspired by a 2001 event in which a smuggler abandoned 30 individuals who hoped to emigrate from Mexico to the United States. On this occasion, 14 Mexican nationals were left to die in the desert near southwestern Arizona.
“These 14 people are only mentioned at the top of the show,” said actress Audra Furphy. “And their stories are not told, because we don’t know their stories – they died. They were killed by dehydration in the desert trying to make it to America. So I think that the story of this show as a whole is more about honoring a memory and trying to create an understanding that something needs to change.”
Though the play covers contentious issues of race, immigration and identity, the script does not seem to have an agenda; approximately 75% of the play is comprised of real life interviews verbatim, with some monologues combining the experiences of his friends and family with his interviews. With this factual approach to storytelling, the play provides a detailed gloss of the lives of characters near the southern borders, who vary in personal and political ideology.
“I think having no interaction with other characters lets the true feelings and the true thoughts about these issues come out, because there is a lack of judgment from other people,” said Assistant Director Julia Senise. “The interviewer obviously is a pretty neutral person. So having the judgment of other people gone lets the characters be completely transparent.”
The authenticity of these stories becomes evident throughout the raw nature of the interviews.
“One character even very distinctly says, ‘if you use this interview, I will sue you.’ Well, it’s used,” Furphy said. “[Casas] didn’t care. That perspective needed to be shared so badly, that it didn’t matter to José Casas.”
Torrez believes that “14” will have a lasting impact on its audience. While the play deals with issues of immigration and racism, it is also a story of other issues such as economic stratification, gender and patriarchy. Since these issues are presented through interviews with complex individuals, the talking points easily intersect and present a holistic and intersectional vision of life.
“For me,” Torrez said, “it was really important that this kind of show to not just be a play where we go in, think about it while we’re watching and then forget it when we leave. I really wanted it to be the kind of show that opens dialogue and opens perceptions and opens minds, and encourages something beyond the world of what is Parker Theatre.”
“14” is a part of the New Paltz Players’ “Praxis” series, which is an opportunity for “student written work, work with a social justice message, work from an underrepresented group or new work still in development,” according to the New Paltz theatre site. Torrez emphasizes that the issues covered in this play are relevant, but trace back to a larger problem.
“The funny thing about this play was that it was written in 2003,” Torrez said. “But if you come watch it and read it, it is almost indiscernible from today. And I think 17 years of no change is extremely terrifying in a situation that is the reality for a lot of people in this country.”
“When I first started proposing this project, we actually had people in the New Paltz area being deported by ICE,” Torrez said. “So, I was like, if we can be this far north, and as far away from the borders as you can think, and that still be a situation, that meant it needed to be talked about.”
The Praxis series gives students like Torrez a chance to discuss the issues that matter to them, while honing their dramatic acting, directing or staging skills. This freedom of expression has ignited a passion in the cast and crew involved in the production.
“We won’t let the current presidency silence us,” Torrez said. “We don’t let what the news chooses to report silence us. And we demand to talk about an issue that is very relevant and still has very real consequences, even if other people aren’t talking about it.”
“14” will be on the Parker stage from Friday, March 27 to Sunday, March 29.