Bodies contorted, arms bent back into wings, or necks bent, yowling at the moon—Sigfrido Aguilar and Jim Calder do a mean chicken and coyote imitation. But when the critters in The Alamo Piece hop off the barnyard floor into the rarefied air of metaphor, they’re riding for a fall.
These accomplished clowns, one Mexican, one American, have teamed up to create a vaudeville commentary on the abusive romance between their two countries. Their slapstick antics enact the sad drama of the Mexican illegals who bribe, swim, or otherwise struggle their way across the Rio Grande; the border guards who shoot at them; and the suburban housewives who pursue them to mow the grass.
Performed in English with a helping of Spanish, their “Circus of the Border” is a hodgepodge of comedic duets, sight gags, and harmonica numbers (with composer Andy Teirstein adding lively guitar and accordion strains). At their most entertaining, Aguilar and Calder do a recurring soap opera skit about an aging border honcho who lusts after a young Mexican gal. Calder plays the horny gringo with nasty delight, aided by a wickedly funny look-alike dummy (created by co-director Barbara Pollitt). Aguilar is hilarious as the beauteous maid, his plastic face comically contorting under a moth-eaten wig. As the head of the bashful bride-to-be appears above a white curtain strung along a rope, the performers whip up a multitude of laughs, turning the curtain into an elegant dress, a bedsheet from which the couple’s heads pop out in orgasmic yelps, and a shmatte-kerchief for a virgin saint.
Though the props often show a charming inventiveness, many of the jokes fall flat. In one, painted cardboard figures of “wetbacks” trek across the top of the hanging sheet. An audience member is hauled onstage and asked to hit these targets with beanbags, as in a carnival sideshow. When she nails one, they accuse, “You hit the little girl!” This barb sails straight between sad and funny, missing both by a yard. There’s also a “trunk show” where Calder and Aguilar pull photographs of historical luminaries like Pancho Villa and General Pershing from a trunk for a whirlwind history lesson on how the U.S. robbed Mexico of Texas. “You give cheap labor,” the Gringo serenades his love in another bit that lands with a didactic thud.
For agility, timing, and comic expression, this odd couple displays real mastery. But putting their politics into words illuminates mostly their talent for the obvious. When a piece that’s barely 75 minutes long makes you weary but no wiser, you know the satirists have shot wide of their mark.