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'Detained In The Desert' Opens At La Jolla Playhouse

Award winning playwright and screenwriter  Josefina López is best known for "Real Women Have Curves"
Award winning playwright and screenwriter Josefina López is best known for "Real Women Have Curves"
Josefina Lopez's New Play, 'Detained In The Desert'
'Detained In The Desert' Opens At La Jolla Playhouse
GuestsJosefina López, Playwright David Rivas, Actor

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Artists can often explore controversial subjects better than any professor politician and that's the aim of the new production at the La Jolla Playhouse. The play detained in the desert is the story of two very different people who happen to find themselves lost in the Arizona desert. While they struggle to survive the elements they also struggle with opposing views on immigration reform. Recently playwright Josefina Lopez and actor David Rivas spoke with guest host Tom Fudge about the play. Here is that interview. TOM FUDGE: Josefina what inspired you to write the play? JOSEFINA LOPEZ: There were several things. I was in Tucson when SB 1070 was signed and was furious a lot of my friends wanted to go to a protest and I could not go. I was with my in-laws so I could not leave. So I felt like I had to protest and say something so I decided to write a play. Think I'm the first person to write a play in protest to this and I also had spent several months before I have spent with several days with Henrique Morones who was the founder of border Angels. I spent five days with him traveling through the desert discovering and learning what a lot of migrants who go through the desert go through and we ended up at a cemetery. The Oak Hill Cemetery in California by the border of Arizona there's over 700 bodies of people who they don't know who they are because they found the bodies in the desert and they cannot return the bones to the relatives because they do not have identification. And so I was like, wow, there are all these souls in the desert wondering, waiting for people to pick up their bones. So the idea came from that and also from the work of Henrique Morones. And I really learned a lot by being around him. TOM FUDGE: You know you might have to really quick explain to us what SB 1070 is, because you mentioned that and some listeners may not know what that is. JOSEFINA LOPEZ: SB 1070 is an anti-immigrant law that basically gives police officers the right to racially profile. And people may not call it that. They said oh, if you suspect the person is here illegally you have the right to ask them for their papers. The only way you would suspect they are here illegally if they are dark skinned look at the typical Mexican, because how would you expect a Canadian who is undocumented or Scottish person or English person who is undocumented, you wouldn't. TOM FUDGE: So that was as you said part of the inspiration for writing the play. JOSEFINA LOPEZ: That was the inspiration for writing the play. TOM FUDGE: Josefina while you're at it but you tell us the main characters of the playwright JOSEFINA LOPEZ: There are two main characters, There is one called Lou Pedro is a composite of Lou Dobbs Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and the other character is Sandy. Sandy is sort of a second, third generation Latino. She is dark skinned, looks Native American but she's a US citizen who does not even speak Spanish really understands Spanish. She's racially profiled. Lou, I don't want to give too much because it's a very complex story because basically these people would be on opposite ends of the immigration debate. And these two people, through some supernatural forces are brought together in a very unusual place. But the story really looks at this debate, but on a human level and it also looks at hate crimes and the rise of hate crimes due to hate talk on the radio and television. TOM FUDGE: Right, we'll get to that in a bit and I don't want to give away too much, either but they meet in the desert. JOSEFINA LOPEZ: They meet in the desert at a water station. TOM FUDGE: At water station and I guess they have to survive JOSEFINA LOPEZ: They have to survive I take the story from a human level again past the BS of the politics and say you know what, the sun doesn't care who you are, you will die, the hot sun and the desert. TOM FUDGE: So is the play meant to be a discussion of immigration issues? JOSEFINA LOPEZ: It is because I like to shatter a lot of myths about immigration because a lot of people make assumptions for instance that undocumented people each of the system. One is that they cannot collect welfare, for instance but one of the myths that I shatter is the whole thing about like one of the things the laptops was saying, that's why he got kicked off CNN because a lot of people were protesting the fact that he was lying. He was saying that they were bringing in tuberculosis, that a third of the prison population is made up of undocumented people which are all lies and the other thing was Lou Dobbs is married to a Mexican-American woman. TOM FUDGE: I did not know that. JOSEFINA LOPEZ: I didn't know that either. Enrique Morones told me, he's debated him many times he's met him many times, she's a Latina. A lot of this is BS he said it's yes, it's all for show, it's ratings. I said well a lot of people make so much money selling fear and hate. TOM FUDGE: Do you try to give the audience idea of what it's like to be in the desert what it's like to travel in the desert? JOSEFINA LOPEZ: As close as you can because I actually shot the movie version of this story and when we try to shoot it in 109° for eight hours we were like oh my God, let's get out of here, let's finish we had to shoot for 12 hours but we tried to shoot at night, to because it was unbearable. And the plane we try to give an idea of what it would be like. TOM FUDGE: I was going to talk about this later but since you brought it up this is not just a play it's going to be a film? JOSEFINA LOPEZ: I've already made the film. So we will do a sneak peek at the San Diego media Center at the Digital gym on November 10 and it will be a fundraiser for border Angels they can find out more at TOM FUDGE: David Rivas let's turn to you you are an actor and display and why don't you tell us a little bit more about the character you play. DAVID RIVAS: Well I play Enrique Martinez in the play and that role is based on Henry Taymor rawness and Roberto Martinez. TOM FUDGE: Did we say who Enrique Morones is? DAVID RIVAS: Enrique Morones founded the border Angels 27 years ago and they're basically known for putting water in the desert for migrants crossing the desert basically so people do not die regardless of what their legal status is. They also do other things with other people around town, but they are mainly known for putting water in the desert and I play Henrique and you do not see to much of him he kind of comes in and the story is more about the other people that are around the issue. TOM FUDGE: How did you get involved with this project why did you want to be in this play? DAVID RIVAS: I got involved with it because our theater company is producing it and we are friends with Josefina, and we were just awarded this to year residency at the La Jolla Playhouse. And so this is our first production there and we are also friends with Henrique Puranas, we've known him for a long time and so everything came together and it was destined to be. TOM FUDGE: And this theater company has little bit of the history doesn't it it's been around for a while. DAVID RIVAS: We've been around since 1989 and we are mostly known for doing the pastoral at the San Diego repertory Theatre every Christmas which is the shepherd story and there's devils and fighting angels and muscles of the shepherds before the first Christmas. It's kind of like the B story to the birth of Christ. So we are mainly known for doing that and we also do other various projects around town. A lot with schoolkids and high schools and things like that. TOM FUDGE: And what is the mission of the theater company? Is there something you try to do above all? DAVID RIVAS: The mission statement I believe is just to provide good entertainment enlightening theater to raise awareness with issues like this. The last show we did was a musical about Cesar Chavez. TOM FUDGE: It's been described as a multicultural theater company DAVID RIVAS: We are multicultural so a lot of times when I tell people about the Christmas show what they want to know is is it all in Spanish? No it's not in Spanish it's in English but it's flavored with Spanish but the clear tours are not just Mexico. They're white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Latina, everybody is in it. We don't discriminate against anybody. Everybody is welcome to the shows as well as to come see the shows and one of the things we like to do is make sure that the shows are affordable for everybody. So we make affordable ticket prices and another thing we do with the theater company is every show that I've been involved with in the theater company is there's always at least one person in the cast that has never ever been on stage before. Every single show. And usually that person gets involved because they give somebody a ride to the theater. They are just waiting for rehearsal to be over and we say hey, why don't you do this walk on TOM FUDGE: Why do you do that? DAVID RIVAS: I just think it's because it's for everybody. Theater is for everybody. And usually when we do our shows there's usually some type of message involved. People just want to get involved with our shows. TOM FUDGE: Well Dave Rivas who you just heard from is the actor in a play which is called detained in the desert. Josefina Lopez is a playwright and author of detained in the desert, she joins me as well but she is best known, are well known for authoring another play, and co-authoring an award-winning film called real women have curves. But, getting back to detained in the desert, Dave, I was wondering if you could give us just a little taste of this play, maybe a monologue that you could deliver? DAVID RIVAS: Sure, there is a part where Henrique Morones does wander through the desert with a volunteer and they deliver water, they help them to deliver water and he has a lot of politicians, media to document what he's doing there is a scene in the show where we are doing just that there is a reporter and a film group going through the desert with them and asking them questions about what his experiences are how many people have died in the desert, has he ever seen a dead body, things like that. TOM FUDGE: Okay and Josefina what is the question you want to put to her character in this play? JOSEFINA LOPEZ: Henrique of all the deaths you have witnessed which one has stayed with you? DAVID RIVAS: Oh, there are several tragic stories that I carry in my heart but there is one in particular that has stayed with me. This one time when I was delivering water I saw several empty bottles of water, some trash and debris on fire. And as I got closer I saw a woman lying down on the ground. Now, she looked dead, but she didn't look dried up or damaged bridge look like she had been dead maybe one day. Suddenly her body started moving and I got excited thinking maybe she was alive and I could rush her to the hospital and possibly save her life. But as I got closer I sent me jump back, startled as a black snake slithered out of her mouth. I saw her body wiggle as a 5 foot snake came out of her. She was dead. I guess the group she was with left her behind in the animals well, she started to cry. What else could I do? After the snake went to hide in a hole at a distance I took her hand and said a prayer for her. I think of the souls of the ten thousand people who have died wandering in the desert. I carry crosses in the desert. I carry crosses in my heart for all the poor souls. JOSEFINA LOPEZ: So why do you do it? Like you said one or two people are going to die whether you put water out here or not. DAVID RIVAS: It's the right thing to do. JOSEFINA LOPEZ: Yes but why DAVID RIVAS: You know I have to believe what I do will make a difference. Gandhi's grandson (inaudible) told a story once that has always stayed with me. He said a father and his father and a young son were walking on the beach and on the sand were thousands of tiny starfish and they were drying up the young son started picking up the starfish and dropping them in the water trying to save him and his father said somebody doing what difference does it make there are thousands of them and his son picked up one tiny starfish and he replied, it will make a difference to this one. And he's right back into the water. And he continued throwing starfish back into the water. That is the power of one. TOM FUDGE: That is actor Dave Rivas who is an actor playing a character in the play detained in the desert which is a play written by Josefina Lopez. Josefina by the way that scene was very powerful and as a matter of fact when I heard you talking about the body seeming like it was alive I was kind of wondering if that was one of the spirits that an inhabited this woman who had died, but of course you find out know, it is a snake. Which is kind of terrifying. Josefina, you were undocumented when you were younger. Can you tell us a little bit of that story? JOSEFINA LOPEZ: My parents brought me to this country when I was five years old and they would tell me not to tell anyone that I had papers and I didn't know-maybe they mean we don't have toilet paper I didn't know what they meant. I was so innocent and I remember knowing that I was undocumented I was like wow, I remember as a young girl seeing a meter maid and thinking maybe that was immigration and my friend and I were both undocumented said let's pretend like we were white, so we started talking about Barbies and Jordache jeans and we were like I think we fooled them. It was so funny. I lived very afraid of being deported and separated from my parents. When I was 18 years old I qualified for amnesty and I qualified and the rest is history but I was a dreamer long before it was cool to be a dreamer. TOM FUDGE: How long ago was that, when was this? JOSEFINA LOPEZ: 1987 was an amnesty law was passed by qualified and in 87 I was able to get my temporary residency card. TOM FUDGE: So I guess you know what it's like to either benefit, well in your case benefit from national policy regarding immigration. JOSEFINA LOPEZ: Yes, yes, no. I definitely think it changed my life because I was suicidal. I was like what's the point of studying for school if I'm not going to be able to go to college? I'm going to be a shadow. I'm not going to be considered a human being. So when I got my green card I felt like I was I'm finally a human being. It was so sad but that was the reality you are not considered human until you have a paper that says so.. TOM FUDGE: You know David there is the story we should talk about. We began this story by talking about the fact that your theater company is now in residence at the La Jolla Playhouse and this is a new development? DAVID RIVAS: This is a new development for us. We usually do shows that the San Diego rep or high schools or retry to find a home, we've basically been a theater company without a home. And there really aren't too many homes for Latino theater companies in San Diego. And we finally found a home at least for two years at the La Jolla Playhouse. We just were awarded a two-year residency there. This is our first production and we are excited to do at least two more. So we have something in the works next may be a Latino version of the odd couple. It might be something written by Paul Rodriguez, but do not quote me on that. Then there is a musical surrounding the story of Zapata and Pancho Villa. And that is in the works of that might be happening. TOM FUDGE: All right. So Joesfina Lopez, Dave Rivas thank you so much for coming in. BOTH: Thank you very much for having us. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Detained in the desert runs through September 15th at the La Jolla Playhouse.

Artists can often explore controversial subjects better than any professor or politician, and that's the aim of a new production at the La Jolla Playhouse.

Josefina López's play Detained in the Desert is the story of two very different people who happen to find themselves lost in the Arizona desert: a second-generation Latina and an anti-immigrant radio talk show host. While they struggle to survive the elements, they also struggle with opposing views on immigration reform.

López, best known for "Real Women Have Curves", says she wrote the play in response to Arizona's "show me your papers" law, SB 1070 and hopes to humanize the immigration debate.


Detained in the Desert is a production of Teatro Máscara Mágica, a new resident theater company at the Playhouse and a fixture in San Diego County.

The show runs through Sept. 15 at the Playhouse’s Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre.