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THEATER REVIEW: ‘A Crossing’ at Barrington Stage is moving, timely

"BSC has produced not only one of the finest musicals in its impressive history of developing new work, but also a moving, inspirational tale of tragedy and hope that is more timely than ever."

Julianne Boyd, Barrington Stage Company’s artistic director, said when BSC started developing “A Crossing,” about the risks immigrants face entering the U.S. via the Mexican border, six years ago, she feared that by the time it was stage-ready it might no longer be relevant. Sadly, that concern is pathetically ironic, but BSC has produced not only one of the finest musicals in its impressive history of developing new work, but also a moving, inspirational tale of tragedy and hope that is more timely than ever.

What’s more, “A Crossing,” created in association with Calpulli Mexican Dance Company, is unique in its storytelling, dramatizing its tale not just in song inspired by Mexican folk music but also in dance influenced by baile folklorico, a hallmark of Mexican culture.

The story (no dialogue; it’s all sung-through or danced) by the ever-reliable and versatile Mark St. Germain, who authored “Eleanor” earlier this season, pivots around four principals seeking to escape Mexico to Texas. The pregnant Karina (Aline Mayagoitia) is escaping an abusive relationship and only wants a better life for her child. Martin (Justin Gregory Lopez) — who once lived in the U.S. with his wife, now deceased, and baby son but was deported by ICE — wants to be reunited with his motherless child. The young Giselle (Ashley Perez Flanagan), whose parents were killed by a drug cartel, is fleeing for her life. Her grandfather Arturo (Carlos L. Encinias), mourning his and Giselle’s loss, wants to see his granddaughter to safety.

“A Crossing” at Barrington Stage Company. Photo: Daniel Rader

The four are joined in crossing the Rio Grande by an ensemble of five — along with the principals, all vocally skilled — and guided by Coyote (a slithery Omar Nieves) who guides the group for money; he might as well be a drug dealer. Interlocuting the narrative are storytellers Luna (Monica Tulia Ramirez) and Sol (Andres Quintero), richly costumed (in contrast to the immigrants) in traditional, 19th century Mexican dress in sparkling black, white, and silver.

Director and, with Alberto Lopez, co-choreographer, Joshua Bergasse (endeared to BSC audiences for “The Pirates of Penzance” and “On The Town”), seamlessly weaves song and dance for nearly two dozen musical sequences (original songs by Zoe Sarnak). Lyrically, the more successful songs are in Spanish, where the rhythm of the language rather than words themselves informs the emotion, especially the traditional, soulful “Cancion Mixteca.” The dance is transporting, especially in a solo by ensemble member Caleb Marshall-Villarreal as a spectacular, emerald-green jeweled and plumed Quetzalcoatl, feathered serpent Aztec deity, and later in a harrowing balletic interpretation of a tragic river crossing.

The set by Beowulf Boritt is as ingenious as the one he created for “Chester Bailey” earlier this season. Sloping geometric forms function as campsites, caves, and dangerous mountain passages. In reverse, they form a Texas barn where the immigrants seek refuge. The backdrop consists of larger geometric panels that accommodate digital projections of natural surroundings or bold, colorful Aztec design.

The 85-minute production is perfectly balanced, bookended by homage in song to the Statue of Liberty. In the prologue, it’s 1919, with the lady statue welcoming “your tired, your poor” with the ensemble querying “Is (it) criminal to just want to love her,” to want a safer, freer, and better life? The conclusive scene dramatizes how the U.S. doesn’t practice what it preaches. The epilogue reposits the prologue’s refrain of hope and promise. “A Crossing,” in a brilliant blend of unique dance and song, which never stoops to preach, poignantly poses the real question: Is it moral to deny a better life based on principles we promote?

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