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Review: Letting go, with a laugh

'Dos Pocitos' takes dark but funny look at border troubles

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Mario Ramirez, left, is Abel and Mateo Barrera is Adam in Teatro Vivo's production of 'Dos Pocitos.' The play mines dark humor from the violence around the Texas-Mexico border.

Raul Garza insists that his newest play, "Dos Pocitos," is a comedy.

Never mind the bleak futuristic dystopia of "Texaco" the Austin playwright has imagined — the Texas-Mexico border zone that has been abandoned by the United States and left to the lawless goings-on of drug cartels.

Sure, that's a worse-case scenario, Garza says. "But (this play) is also about having loyalty to a specific place and the irrational extremes we'll go to preserve that sense of place. "

Irrational, quirky things like running a convenience store at the end of a road in a place that's devoid of people, something two of the characters in "Dos Pocitos" do.

Produced by Teatro Vivo, "Dos Pocitos" opens today at Salvage Vanguard Theater.

In Garza's imagined future, it's the year 2026 and two middle-age men venture back to Texaco, looking for the idyllic place of their youth. Along the way, they find a few others (like the shop owners) who are hanging on to that same sense of place, determined to preserve — or perhaps restore — a region that is a rich historical crossroads of Latino and Anglo culture.

"This play foreshadows what could happen to the border if we as Americans don't start paying attention to the people who are living there," says director Estevan Zarate. "While there are Latino themes, I think that it speaks to a greater problem that we could have as Americans if we are not careful. We can't turn a blind eye to people who are a part of this country."

And yes, Zarate confirms, "Dos Pocitos" is a comedy.

"Although there are some very serious undertones to the play, it is at heart a dark comedy," Zarate says. "Raul has crafted a group of witty, vibrant characters that are thrust into a world of serious life challenges."

Place and our relationship to it dominated "Fantasmaville," Garza's comedy that won the 2007 National Latino Playwriting Award. In that play, Garza — who was a founding member of the Latino Comedy Project — explored gentrification and what happens to an urban neighborhood when Latino and Anglo cultures collide.

And like with "Fantasmaville," Garza has called on the talents of his brother, singer-songwriter David Garza, to provide an original score for "Dos Pocitos."

The playwright has deep roots in the Rio Grande Valley, where both his parents grew up. He still returns on occasion and is frustrated at the way the region has still yet to wrest itself from crippling poverty and also now struggles against the growing violence on the Mexican side of the border brought by warring drug cartels.

"Are we being good stewards of a place if we're letting it go and just forgetting about it?" Garza asks.

Not everyone let's go of a place so easily, Garza says, and it's that intense or almost absurd yet heartfelt allegiance that is the focus of "Dos Pocitos."

"This a play about dreams and hopes."

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699

‘Dos Pocitos'