TEGAN McLeod’s Lunatic 19’s – A Deportational Road Trip is a searing piece of theatre, receiving its world premiere at the innovative Finborough in London’s Chelsea. It’s written for our time and of our time – one of rising nationalism, increasing protectionism and soaring deportations. An insensitive, dispassionate world. In parts the play is brutal. But there’s also a layer of humanity underpinning it all. Hope amid the adversity.
The play is built around the relationship between deportee and deporter. Deportee is Gracie (a magnificent Gabriela Garcia), an ‘undocumented’ Chicana worker from Kentucky. Deporter is immigration enforcement officer Alec, a stupendous Devon Anderson – physically imposing with a gun swinging from his hip.
Gracie has just been involved in a serious road accident that has left her with 19 screws in her skull and hospitalised. But it doesn’t stop Alec barging in and carrying out his instructions to deport her immediately to Mexico. Her crime? Failure to pay for the late return of a rental car, triggering a warrant for her arrest and deportation because she is deemed an illegal immigrant.
What follows is painful to watch as Gracie is humiliated, handcuffed and left in the back of a windowless van for hours on end as Alec travels south. ‘Discover, detain, deport’ is his overriding mantra. At sporadic toilet stops, Gracie is forced to relieve herself while still handcuffed, Alec pulling down her pants and then pulling them back up. ‘You’re an illegal alien,’ he insists, justifying his robotic and heartless actions. Empathy doesn’t get a look in.
But slowly and surely, Gracie gets under Alec’s skin and begins to break down his hard exterior. She tells him of her numerous miscarriages. In return, Alec opens up and sheds a little light on his own personal life – a strong family man with daughters and a love for a sister who has hit on hard times.
Gracie is as cunning as a fox which means the deportational road trip does not quite work out as Alec expected. They get pushed together (quite literally), then pulled apart. We learn more about why Gracie never returned her rental car on time. We also discover something revelatory about Gracie that means she should never be in the back of Alec’s van. Along the way, there’s a lot of blood and many 19’s (steps, highway 19, execution order 19, et al).
Lunatic 19’s – A Deportational Road Trip Is a gripping play from a talented playwright. Garcia and Anderson are quite exceptional as manipulator and manipulated (persecuted and persecutor), playing out their game of cat and mouse on a stark stage devoid of props other than a few food items. When Garcia’s Gracie has a seizure, her eyes roll back as if she really is in the throes of a fit. Quite shocking to watch. Her regular Spanish rants reinforce her anger and despair at what is happening to her. Anderson’s Alec slowly unfurls like a beautiful peonia.
Expertly directed by Jonathan Martin, Lunatic 19’s – A Deportational Road Trip is unmissable theatre. A few politicians – here, in Europe and in the United States – would benefit from watching it. Surely, they could spare 90 minutes out of their busy lives?
Title image by Marian Medic