Sole Survivors; Journey Across Borders
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 14, 2009
In her one-woman play Sole Survivors; Journey Across Borders, Michelle Vest introduces us to four people, each of whom has an interesting perspective about the hot-button issue of immigration. We meet a young woman who has emigrated from Mexico, a highly educated man who works in a restaurant trying to earn enough to bring his wife and two daughters to America from his homeland, a Mexican day laborer working in the fields on an American farm, and an Arizonan woman who discovers that her family's land includes a huge area of desert when illegals cross the border from Mexico and attempt to walk—often unsuccessfully—to a new life in the United States.
The last of these is the character who interested me the most, mainly because her story—of driving truckloads of illegal immigrants to safety for enormous amounts of money—was the one I hadn't ever heard before. Vest devotes perhaps half of her stage time to this monologue, filling the tale out with vivid and exciting detail. The other stories, by contrast, are shorter and less particularized.
Vest performs all four of the pieces in the guise of these particular men and women: she changes her hair, adds or subtracts a hat, and wears a different shirt to sketch out who she's portraying. The final touch before she begins each monologue is to put on a pair of shoes (or sandals, or boots): the show's title alludes to this unifying concept, which reminds us viscerally of the old saw about walking a mile in someone else's shoes before judging them. That's precisely what Vest is doing in Sole Survivors, and it's a worthy enterprise.
While she changes, the accomplished musical quartet Mariachi Flor de Toloache performs Mexican-flavored songs. This is a great approach to handling the transitions, and for enhancing the mood of the play.
There's not quite enough material in Sole Survivors to make it feel like a fully satisfying program as of yet (the entire piece runs about 50 minutes, including five musical numbers from the band). And it's only the first character who speaks to us in a voice that feels entirely authentic, and has an interesting and original story to tell us. But Vest is clearly an artist with vision, commitment, and talent, and I am sure that she will continue to develop Sole Survivors to achieve its considerable potential.