It goes without saying that race relations are still a large problem in this country. Race issues are delicate, complicated, and tend to be rooted in much more than the color of one’s skin. American Jornalero, a play by Ed Cardona Jr., attempts to comment on these matters—and although there’s a good, sincere intention with the story, the play suffers from an overbearing feeling of righteousness. In short, everyone is trying just a little too hard.
The plot is simple: We follow two days in the life of four illegal immigrants—Marcelo (Jose Joaquin Perez), Luis (Bernardo Cubría), Michigan (Bobby Plasencia), and Montezuma (David Crommett)—who spend their time on a street corner near a playground in Queens, hoping to get picked up for a day’s work. On the second day, we meet a couple of blue-collar white men, Toby (Quinlan Corbett) and Mark (Joel Ripka), who establish “presences” on these corners. Their goal: to scare off the illegals who, in their eyes, steal opportunity from “hard-working Americans.” However, after Mark hangs out for awhile, he develops a rapport with the immigrants, and they all come to realize that their circumstances may not be so different after all.
It’s hard to fault the actors or director Mariana Carreño King for the problems in American Jornalero—the main issue lies in the writing. Each character, with the possible exceptions of Mark (currently unemployed) or Luis (a school teacher turned laborer), appears more like a cookie cutout rather than an actual human being. There isn’t enough time spent with the individuals to reveal their background or where they come from or why they’re there. It’s frustrating, because a tale like this has the opportunity to give insight to a real-world situation, but instead it offers no genuine subtext or depth. In other words, it feels like exactly what one would expect from a cliché play about illegal immigrant workers. Moreover, at its conclusion, as we witness all of the tenseness that American Jornalero has attempted to establish wash away in a few short moments of harmony, it all becomes just a little too kumbaya.