In a visually stunning one-man performance using ritual as art, José Torres-Tama takes you on a painful journey from the sacred to the profane as he embodies the dozen most dramatic of the 100 stories he personally video recorded over a ten-year period as his magnus opus effort to “document the undocumented.”
The performance begins with a dramatic entrance by Torres-Tama as he descends the stairs from the back of the theater grunting with every step as if he were channeling the agony of Christ carrying a huge red cross and with his head adorned with a Pope’s Papal Tiara emblazoned with the word ALIEN in blood red.
The cross carries dollar bills nailed to the horizontal post as a statement that condemns the greed of the $5 billion prison industrial complex that swallows up “aliens’ at the Mexican/U.S. border as it systematically separates families and distributes them to a network of private prisons for $200 a day.
Torres-Tama prostrates himself on the floor in a crucifixion pose before his altar of Meso-American artifacts from Dia de Los Muertos skulls to a wash bowl that will highlight the cleansing pain of a construction worker in New Orleans who nearly lost his hand and arm in an accident in the “city that Bush forgot.”
An Ecuadorean who now resides in New Orleans, Torres-Tama has a vocal range that embodies the haunted staccato voices of his real-life characters and reflects the Zydeco music and African spiritual influences of Santeria, Vodun, and Yoruba as he uses the Black church call-and-response technique to engage the audience with an “Ashe” African greeting and repeats in Spanish and English “No human being is an Alien” and pays homage to the ancestors by pouring libations from his private flask of liquor on the floor.
But it is his personal story as a seven-year-old who began his journey with his mother’s daring decision to leave Ecuador and carry José through the Port of Miami and ultimately to New York City and the Bronx. It is his use of his personal papers that project his youthful passport photo and Immigration & Naturalization Service description as a “permanent resident alien” that inspires his art.
Torres-Tama’s performance art philosophy also embraces humor as he drops sometimes corny jokes on the audience throughout the performance in an effort to lighten the mood between the painful vignettes that includes the Honduran construction worker whose hand is crushed while rebuilding New Orleans; a Mexican Methodist minister who implores us to see the Christ figure in the persecuted immigrant; a Nicaraguan woman who retells her dramatic border-crossing story when she was a child escaping the ’80s Sandinista Civil War to reunite with her father; and a hilarious Chicano-accented Pachuco character with a message to gringos who love guacamole: “You can’t consume our foods and demonize the cooks!”
To embody the pain of the construction worker, Torres-Tama channels a “Green Monster” mask and falls on his knees in front of the altar to wash the dirt of a day in the toxic waters of NOLA where workers are housed in a two-person trailer with one bathroom that crams over a dozen men who fight for a minute to wash their faces every morning and afternoon.
“I always feel dirty” was the line that many audience members felt as a dagger in their heart at the Talk Back session that GALA hosted after the 90-minute, no-intermission performance.
“Mea culpa Católica,” or Catholic guilt, was the other unvarnished emotion that poured over the female audience members as Torres-Tama donned the Cross of Christ and the Pope’s Papal Tiara as he uses the ritualistic tool of repetition to start and end the performance with a giant and miniature red cross with dollar bills.
With the deft assistance of Brandon Cook, GALA’s sound and projections manager, Torres-Tama also uses historical film footage from the Obama “Deporter in Chief” administration period of Republican politicians in Arizona TV ads that demonized immigrants as a unique touchstone of his performance art presentation.
Torres-Tama crafts a variety of complex “alien” characters from the Latin diaspora, to challenge the “freedom-loving” nation that has moved to the “Dark Side” where immigrants have become “enemies of the state.” The show exposes the hypocrisies of the “United States of Amnesia,” which seduces its citizenry to embrace the modern culture wars that politically dehumanize the same people whose labor it readily exploits.
If you are a little ADHD, you will love Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evil Doers because of Torres-Tama’s eclectic roller coaster character transitions from priest to Pachuco. This thoroughly engaging bilingual performance is the latest example of GALA’s daring re-introduction of live theater to Washington as they continue their 45th-anniversary season live on stage to a COVID-correct 66-seat, perfectly spaced safe theater experience in GALA’s historic space that normally accommodates 300.
Presented from May 14 through May 15, 2021, only, Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evildoers is a genre-bending sci-fi Latino noir that satirizes the absurd status of immigrants as “extraterrestrials.” And as an added community outreach effort, Torres-Tama will perform an outdoor engagement in Mount Pleasant in commemoration of the 1991 Police Riot this weekend.
Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evildoers performs live May 14 and 15, 2021, at GALA Theatre, 3333 14th Street NW, Washington, DC. Reservations are necessary, as only 66 patrons will be seated. General admission tickets are $20. To purchase tickets, call 202-234-7174 or visit galatheatre.org.