Following its hit production of “A Christmas Carol,” Teatro Jacó on the central Pacific coast is now presenting “17 Border Crossings,” an entertaining and thought-provoking collection of dramatic and humorous monologues woven together from real adventures of international border crossings.
The show is the creation of multitalented U.S. director, writer and actor Thaddeus Phillips, artistic director of Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental, a theater team based in the U.S. city of Philadelphia and Bogota, Colombia, that develops original theater works using creative structures, objects, found and original texts and extensive travel.
The internationally acclaimed “17 Border Crossings” comes to Teatro Jacó directly from Madrid on a world tour. The Tico Times caught up with Phillips prior to opening night, Jan. 19. Excerpts:
TT: You are now on a world tour and your next stop is Costa Rica. Why have you chosen to perform at Teatro Jacó? Is this your first visit to Costa Rica?
TP: This is my first visit to Costa Rica and the Central/South American premiere of our work. Teatro Jacó invited us to bring our work here, and I am personally very interested in finding new venues – and Teatro Jacó is a complete adventure.
After graduating from Colorado College in the U.S., you studied at the DAMU (Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts) in Prague. What did you study there?
Mainly the definition of what I studied is called “action design,” a form in which the stage design is a movable and integral part of theater. This process will be seen full swing in “17 Border Crossings.”
“17 Border Crossings” is based on your experiences and adventures at international border crossings over the past 15 years. Did these situations just happen during your extensive travels or did you go to specific borders that you knew could be dangerous?
The situations really just happened. When I went to visit a friend in Croatia during the civil war there, I felt it would be risky, but checked with the U.S. State Department and they said it was calm at that time. It was not.
The play starts with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and spans the time period until 9/11/01. You then resumed writing again after the protest and suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi (the Tunisian fruit vendor who set himself on fire in 2010 and became a catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution and the Arab Spring). Why that particular incident?
I was looking at events surrounding the border crossing stories I was collecting, and noticed that certain ones were really linked to the fall of the Berlin Wall, like the war in the Balkans. And many other crossings were colored by the world after 9/11 – the increased security and suspicion of all things Arab and Muslim. The story of Mohamed Bouazizi and the Arab Spring marks another shift in the world order that could potentially bring forth a newly conceived and more free Arab world.
You use a mix of physical theatricality, humor and political critique to describe the situations you encounter, but with a bare stage or minimal set and virtually no props?
Yes. But the minimal set is full of surprises and visually stunning, and what our design team has come up with in terms of light and sound are a major part of “17 Border Crossings. Touring with the show to Jacó is Maria Shalpin, one of the best young light designers working in the U.S. right now, and she has created borders, scenes in bathrooms, on trains, etc., using just lights that are attached to a bar that ascends and descends in the space. Spencer Sheridan has created a soundscape that amplifies the themes in the work and uses old speakers, a mini-fender amp and microphones.
You have performed in many different countries. How many languages do you speak?
Really, one and a half – English and Spanish. I can speak parts of many languages quite well – I could make one think I speak Spanish fluently, and even Serbian, Czech, Italian and French. I love languages and how they work and communicating with people in other languages, so I dive into unknown languages and then just pretend.
Tell me more about Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental’s shows, particularly “The Earth’s Sharp Edge”; did it have any influence on “17 Border Crossings”?
“17 Border Crossings” is actually a “greatest hits” playlist of almost all of Lucidity’s work. Each scene has something from another show, from “Henry V” to “The Earth’s Sharp Edge,” where the same scene at Newark Liberty Airport is recreated in “17 Border Crossings. The first scene at the airport in Havana, Cuba, is also lifted from a show we did called “Lost Soles.”
Do you think Lucidity Showcase will be coming to Costa Rica in the future?
Darren [Lee Cole], the artistic director of Teatro Jacó, and I have an idea to try to bring a very technically complicated work about a Colombian doorman to Costa Rica in the future.
“17 Border Crossings” runs through Jan. 29 at the new Teatro Jacó, inside Oceans Center on Avenida Pastor Díaz in the Central Pacific beach town of Jacó. Performances are Thursday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday evening shows are performed in Spanish. Ticket prices are $35 for main floor seating and $20 for balcony, with a special locals’ price of $17.50 for Sunday’s Spanish-language performances. For more information, call 2630-9811 or visit www.teatrojaco.com.