Juan Ramirez has been heard to say that he is a playwright and not really an actor. His new play, “The American Dream,” is part of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival, now playing at The Theater at the 14th St. Y. Yet in this festival production, Ramirez decided to play the role of the male lead Efren, a “coyote” (human smuggler who brings illegal immigrants over the border) opposite leading lady, Cristy Reynoso. Reynoso plays the role of Corina, a twenty-something year-old woman who Efren is holding hostage until her husband wires the money that’s owed to him for bringing her across. As it turns out, he also directed the play. In my opinion that is always a big mistake. But in this case, I have to admit I was floored by how good everything turned out.
First, I can vouch that Ramirez is a playwright, and a damn good one at that too. “The American Dream” is tight, engaging, thrilling, and holds your attention for 70 minutes in a way few plays manage to achieve at theatre festivals. Ramirez is a clean writer who knows how to grab your attention and keep it! At the festival level, many plays can crash and burn within ten minutes. But this material has legs, and it works beautifully. It is all done with one simple, bare set, an almost too “real-time” situation with a countdown that will keep you at the edge of your seat, and two characters you won’t soon forget.
I walked in hoping Cristy Reynoso would be solid (having heard that Ramirez is not “really an actor”), but she better than solid. In fact, two fine performances sealed the deal on this being one of the best festival plays I’ve seen this Summer. If Ramirez was not an actor as he claimed going into this festival, he sure is now. This play can go place and you can thank a really good script, good acting by two new talents, and a simple, easy concept that is structured beautifully.
In a recent video interview (you can find it on Youtube: https://youtu.be/R9wBY3EWtdc), when asked what’s next for the play, he said “rewrites.” Some moments could use tightening, and without a doubt, they could use a director’s eye to elevate the work. But as is, even his directing is impressive.
“The American Dream,” Ramirez says, “is a drama about immigration, survival, raw violence, the struggle of power but more importantly, how one optimist and one pessimist pull each other out of their delusions into the peaceful truth of reality. But it is also a timely play that brings into focus the immigrant struggle and wraps us in a world where desperate people fight to survive. It also presents this world without lecturing or politicising the issue.
Corina is an immigrant from Guatemala who has arranged to be smuggled across the border guided by Efren (Ramirez). Instead of finding freedom, she finds herself imprisoned by Efren, who now holds her hostage because the final Western Union payment from her husband hasn’t been wired. For Efren, this is a matter of self-preservation since he has to report to higher ups that run the operation, signaling that he is just a pawn in a much bigger operation. If he fails to control the situation, he is accountable in many ways. If she doesn’t pay, a message needs to be sent. Corina has an hour and twenty minutes to see that wire transfer come through or her American dream will end with a bullet to the head before she even has the chance to experience her new life.
You won’t see the play at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival because it just closed, but the quality of such good material showing up at this inaugural event has proven that this is a festival to watch. As for The American Dream, I have no doubt this play will be back soon. You can follow it’s progress at http://juanramirezjr.com/