“Es la misma historia,” (“It’s the same story” in English), was the opening and closing line of Teatro Del Pueblo Theater Company’s play “Help Wanted,” presented last Friday in Cloak Theatre. The play, which dealt with illegal immigration, was well described by this opening line, both because illegal immigration is a long unsolved problem and the storyline was one the audience had heard before. “Help Wanted,” by Virginia McFarland, tells the story of two sisters who illegally cross the Mexican border to find work in Minnesota. They begin working at a hotel for a boss who treats them badly because he knows they are illegal. Eventually they join a union to protect immigrant rights and their boss reports them to the INS. They are taken to jail where they remain until a lawyer comes to their defense. The play ends with three possible scenarios for the women’s fate in the U.S. — deportation, work in a meatpacking plant, or marriage to a citizen. The audience votes on the outcome.
The play included lines such as, “Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery,” and a flower-petal-picking line “Deport me, deport me not.” The humorous-verging-on-inconsequential tone of much of the dialogue lessened the effectiveness of this serious message.
Another problem was that the women’s boss at the hotel wore a plain, white mask whenever he was onstage. By not giving this boss an individual identity, this reversed “blackface” could be interpreted as a statement that the entire white American population treats immigrants as badly as this boss did.
Overall, the play was so inconsistent and made so much of stereotypes of people and events that it bored the audience by being “la misma historia.” Random singing, events that were — like the hotel boss offering the sisters pizza to not join the union — and the almost “oh well” attitude of the actresses playing the sisters made this show seem more appropriate for children than for the college audience to whom it was geared.
On a positive note, the play inspired a thoughtful discussion between the actors and the audience after the show. Lawrence students brought up real issues in the immigration debate and enlightened others to new aspects about immigration. Also, the actors and the audience told real stories about immigrants trying to make a living in the U.S.
St. Paul-based Teatro Del Pueblo’s mission is “to promote cultural pride in the Latino community, to develop and support Latino talent, to educate the community at large about Latino culture, and to promote cultural diversity in the arts.” The group, which started in 1992 and has expanded to serve the greater Minnesota area, also performs a children’s show about the life of Cesar Chavez and other productions.
The show was sponsored by the on-campus group Viva! Whose mission, according to its website, is “to expand awareness of Hispanic Culture reaching members both within the Lawrence Campus and the greater community.” Teatro del Pueblo will present its next show “Vision-es” in St. Paul. Their website is www.teatrodelpueblo.org.