Taking ‘Enrique’s Journey’
FLC stages adaptation of Pulitzer-winning novel

SideStory: Inside the Common Reading Experience

The Fort Lewis College Theatre Department rehearses “Enrique’s Journey,” a stage adaptation of the acclaimed novel. The performance combines the talents of theatre professionals from all over the state and is one component of FLC’s Common Reading Experience./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Stew Mosberg

An uncommon experience is taking shape at Fort Lewis College. For the past few years, the local college has conducted a campus-wide program known as “The Common Reading Experience” (CRE). The concept invites students and faculty to share a collective intellectual experience by reading a specific book. This year it is the best selling Enrique’s Journey by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Sonia Nazario.

At the heart of the “experience” is a cross-pollination of co-curricular events throughout the fall, including discussion groups, lectures, films and other activities tied to the book’s themes. In keeping with the experimental nature of the CRE, the FLC theater department, under the guidance of Kathryn Moeller, brought together several theatre legends to create a dramatic presentation based on the work.

To begin with, Tony Garcia, artistic director and resident playwright of Denver’s Latino community theatre, Su Teatro, was asked to contribute his talent.

Garcia’s accomplishments are numerous, and he has been recognized for his remarkable contributions to theater and the Latino community. He immediately communicated with author Nazario to define key elements for the production. Garcia then adapted “Enrique’s Journey” into a three-act play that is being performed for the first time this week right here in Durango. The play’s score was written by acclaimed actor/composer Daniel Valdez, who played in and co-produced “La Bamba” appeared in “The China Syndrome” and wrote music for the film "Zoot Suit," among others. The play's choreography was staged by Moeller.

Directing the production is Felicia Meyer who teaches at FLC in the Theatre Department and Writing Programs. Meyer earned her MFA in directing at The American Film Institute, where she directed her award-winning thesis film, “Desert Snow.” In 2008, she directed “Speak Truth to Power: Voices from Beyond the Dark,” a play involving the real stories of human rights defenders around the world, making her an ideal choice to direct “Enrique’s Journey.”

The story traces the harrowing odyssey of a young Honduran boy attempting to ride the rails from his native land across Central America in pursuit of his mother, an illegal immigrant living in North Carolina. Enrique’s dogged determination aboard the infamous “El Tren de Muerte” to make contact with a mother he hardly knows leads to seven separate attempts fraught with danger, deportation, abuse, hunger and near misses.

“The scope is quite large,” Meyer said of the story and its importance. “The political ramifications, especially since the issue is current, have made the experience much richer for all of us.”

Continuing to expand the experience for the show’s student actors, Meyer connected them personally with people in the Durango community who shared their personal immigration stories. “These kinds of opportunities are vital to our students,” she said. “I think it’s so important to relate what we are doing in theatre to what is happening in the world; putting it in a real context, inspiring our students to think about theatre in a broader way, empowering them to take action.”

According to Meyer, the ambitious two-week rehearsal period was considered a workshop production. “I have gone into the process with the intention of bringing Tony’s characters and scenes to life, telling the story through Enrique’s eyes, while experimenting with various ways of storytelling,” she said.

Because of the limited amount of time to stage the production, she tried to tap into as much of the Theatre Department’s talent as possible. “There are so many characters in Tony’s play, and Enrique traveled with many other migrants along the way,” she remarked. “I decided to cast an ensemble of performers who act as a chorus, and actors emerged to play the various roles.”

Ginny Davis who is directing the next FLC production, “Almost Maine,” designed the costumes using a sand belt, rocks and other offbeat materials to give the clothing an old and tattered appearance. Technical Director Greg Mitchell created a unique and surprising set. Jonathan Latta, assistant professor of music, adapted the score to fit the performance and assembled the musicians to play Valdez’ music.

The completely original show has been edited to fit a smaller scale production and includes scenes with adult language (mostly in Spanish) and some drug use. Performances of “Enrique’s Journey” will be held at the Mainstage Theater on Sept. 24, 25 & 26. The curtain goes up at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at the Community Concert Hall’s Downtown ticket office, at www.durangoconcerts.com or by calling 247-7657. •



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