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“A Crossing”: a dance-musical at Barrington Stage is powerful and moving

Aline Mayagoitia, Justin Gregory Lopez, Carlos Encinias, Ashley Pérez Flanagan and Diego Luis Cortes.
Daniel Rader
Barrington Stage Co.
From left to right: Aline Mayagoitia, Justin Gregory Lopez, Carlos Encinias, Ashley Pérez Flanagan and Diego Luis Cortes in "A Crossing"

“A Crossing,” a world premiere dance-musical at Barrington Stage Company is one of the most thrilling experiences of a very productive season for the professional theater company located in Pittsfield, MA.

It’s an emotionally powerful experience that is visually enthralling and dramatically dynamic as it tells a relevant story in a way that makes an abstract social problem human instead of political.

Think of it as “The Grapes of Wrath” as if written by Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. It’s a universal tale of those on the lower rung of the social ladder and the pain it takes to survive and find a better life.

But it was not written by Lorca; the work was written by Mark St. Germain, who has written many thoughtful works for Barrington Stage – including this season’s “Eleanor,” a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. For me, this is his most satisfying work.

This judgment is even more remarkable in that there is no spoken dialogue in the work, The story of a group of Mexicans trying to cross the border to the United States as undocumented immigrants is told using only dance and song.

I can’t say the spoken word is never missed, but it is rarely a problem. This is a series of personal stories that make a larger whole and it is emotion that drives the piece, not words – which you get from the song lyrics anyway.

The play, which is a collaboration with Calpulli Mexican Dance Company, consists of seven central characters all of whom have their individual stories told. Also, there is Coyote, a thug, who is hired to lead the group through treacherous and dangerous terrain. Add two mythical figures who act as god-like narrators and a talented ensemble of five. It makes “A Crossing” the largest cast show mounted locally in the past 18 months.

More important, each person on stage serves a purpose. Though it tells seven specific stories, this is an ensemble show. This is a group of people leaving their country either for hope for the future, fear of the cartel in their homeland, or to a family member left behind through a past failed attempt at American assimilation. These people are a universal representation of the people you see on television nightly being denied hope.

Their hope that is rejected is also a responsibility denied. This is made touchingly clear as the work opens at Ellis Island in 1919 complete with a representation of the Statue of Liberty in the foreground. By the end of the play, through brilliant costume work by designer Alejo Vietti, it is made clear that generations later the families of the early immigrants have turned their backs on the heritage of their forefathers.

Directed by Joshua Bergasse tension is always present. Some comes from the danger of climbing the abstract peaks or fording the river ingeniously created by scenic director Beowulf Boritt, who’s work is brilliant.

Other times it comes from conflict within the group, a threat from outside, or the untrustworthy Coyote. Tension and danger are always there and drive the show.

Sometimes the dances add to the tension, but often the marvelously performed works that are offered in so many different styles just offer a respite, even as they always add to the telling of the story. The choreography by Bergasse and Alberto Lopez is astounding, as are the performances.

The same is true with the original music, with songs written by Zoe Sarnak. They are so perfect and heartfelt in the moment it seems an intrusion to applaud no matter how beautiful they may be. The majority are ensemble numbers, but there are several others that absorb you into the play.

There are no poor voices, but Ashley Perez Flanagan always seems involved in the more memorable songs. Her solo “Can’t Find My Way,” is breathtaking.” “Find Your Way Home” and “Medal of Mary”, both sung with Martin, her grandfather, Carlos Encinias, are sensitive odes to affection.

But others shine as well. The Storytellers, Sol and Luna, played by Andres Quintero and Monica Tulia Ramirez have several wonderful moments together, but their ironic “Welcome to Texas” is a perfect conclusion to a journey intended to circumvent injustice.

Though Omar Nieves has no single defining song, as Coyote he is captivating as a constant ominous presence. All performers not only sing well, but they move and dance superbly.

“A Crossing” closes at Barrington Stage on October 17. It would be a shame if you miss it. It would be a bigger shame if it doesn’t have a life after this Pittsfield engagement. It’s great entertainment about an important social issue.

For tickets and schedule information go to barringtonstageco.org or call 413-236-8888.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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