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Tucson Weekly Rescuing Meaning

Borderlands Theatre Takes The Clichés Of News Reporting Into A New 'Dominion.'

By Margaret Regan

July 14, 1997:  A BUNCH OF gangbangers in a desperately poor Latino barrio shoot up some white people in a car in the middle of the night. One of the bullets explodes in the head of the 3-year-old girl sleeping in the back seat. A gaping red-and-black hole opens up where her ear once was. She dies instantly.

This true-life horror story coming out of Los Angeles a few years back became an instant media sensation. With its key elements of racial conflict, random urban violence and the murder of an innocent, it fit easily into all the conventional journalistic narratives, and most media played it by rote.

The incident also serves as a fictionalized base for Dominion, a new play by Bernardo Solano now at Borderlands Theater, in association with the Mark Taper Forum's Latino Theatre Initiative. But Solano's intelligent work goes beyond the facts of this particular case: His gripping play not only delves into the knee-jerk nature of much contemporary journalism, it takes on the bigger issue of who decides what truth is.

Solano structures his play around a reluctant journalist's quest for the story. The day after the shooting, the police are all over the media declaring the crime to be an open-and-shut case of a racially motivated ambush. Ramón Aguirre, the whitest Latino reporter around (he can't even give his name its Spanish pronunciation), gets the assignment from a magazine whose crafty editor figures that Aguirre's Spanish byline will absolve the publication of any perceived Anglo bias.

Roberto Guajardo, a seasoned Tucson actor who's a member of Actor's Equity, brings to the part of Ramón a fine mixture of frustrated idealism and reporterly cynicism. He wants to find out what happened, sure, but his gut instinct is to go with the police assessment, get in and get out.

The trouble is, no one down on Dominion Street, the fictional East Los Angeles barrio where Solano places the crime, wants to talk. And no wonder: None of the media are really interested in hearing what the locals have to say. A Dominion Street grocer insists on answering all Ramón's questions about the murder with long-winded tales about his years of success in business in a tough neighborhood. From the grocer's point of view, his hard work is just as much a story as gang violence. Laura, a feisty community activist played by Angela Michelle Navarro, goes the grocer one further. She believes an uncomprehending outsider like Ramón simply doesn't have the right to tell Dominion's story.

Ramón may be a cynic, but he has some integrity. He keeps hanging around, far longer than the TV reporters who swoop in on the grocer's taco stand with empty promises of boob-tube fame in exchange for a quote. And luckily he's befriended by a mysterious Dominion gang member named Smoke, wonderfully played by Michael Alvarado with equal parts angry street smarts and compassion. A slippery character who keeps disappearing at crucial moments, it's Smoke who pushes the play beyond everyday reality. He conjures up scenes of alternative realities, and at his bidding the crime gets played out on the stage again and again. One time the murder's a case of mistaken identity, another it's a drug deal gone bad.

With each successive scene, Rashomon-like, the truth becomes harder and harder to ascertain. Yet with each step Ramón takes into the heart of this urban darkness, he comes closer to understanding the truth about himself.

Deftly directed by Barclay Goldsmith, Dominion is a fascinating compendium of gritty urban realities and magical surrealisms, of astute media criticism and personal journey. Like the play Fires in the Mirror, Anna Deveare Smith's take on a real-life racially charged incident in Brooklyn (staged by Arizona Theatre Company a few seasons back), Solano provocatively uses theatre as a tool to rescue meaning from the banal clichés of the news. It's the best thing to grace a Tucson stage in months.

Dominion continues through Sunday, July 13, at PCC Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 general, $8 for seniors, $6 for students. For more information call 882-7406.







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