I have seen and reviewed many one-person shows over the years. I love the bravery of the genre. Some have been brilliant, some disasters, but none are more exciting and unique than performance artist José Torres-Tama’s Aliens, Immigrants and Other Evil Doers. In a scintillating, utterly absorbing seventy-five minutes, Mr. Torres-Tama dissects the current immigrant situation from a personal viewpoint that reaches back through American history to its earliest days and follows that thread to the present moment.
Wearing a paper mask marked “Alien” and carrying a wooden cross festooned with dollar bills, Mr. Torres-Tama, enters from house left in a slow, ponderous march to center stage. It calls to mind those who, in a religious abnegation of the flesh, proceed ponderously on their knees to a given shrine. Soon he sheds the mask to reveal a painted face, all the while speaking rapidly in Spanish and English, regaling the audience with stories of the plights of immigrants from Columbus in the Caribbean and Puritans in New England up to the current moment. The artist bonds with the audience with his lively manner, which is utterly engaging and filled with humor, as he adopts no fewer than nine characters who tell their individual stories.
The extraordinary artist relates a tale of how immigrants were lured to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to work on the cleanup, and then abused with unsafe, dangerous and unsanitary working conditions without the proper tools and physical protection that would seem to be necessary. He reveals how they were poorly paid, and even robbed as “walking ATMs.” Mr. Torres-Tama assumes the character of one such who nearly lost his arm in an accident that crushed his hand. At the hospital, the staff were intent on cutting his arm off, until another doctor, an African-American, declared it was unnecessary and saved him.
The artist’s tales and characters are interspersed with video clips and other projections that reinforce his artistic thesis that there are no “illegal” aliens, only people. With astonishing vigor and non-stop monologues, he plows through the many historical American injustices—the Native American repatriation and genocide; slavery and subsequent lynchings; the Chinese Exclusion Act, The Mexican Repatriation Act; Japanese internment. All these crimes were perpetrated on those who were not “white.” The current political climate shows that the tendency is still vigorous.
The above might lead you to think that Aliens, Immigrants and Other Evil Doers is nothing but a monologue of grievances. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a revelation of historical fact, and an accounting of the current political situation, all delivered with highly entertaining vigor. José Torres-Tama is a performance artist of the highest calibre.
Aliens, Immigrants and Other Evil Doers presented by the Latino Theater Company, continues through November 3 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles.