Theater is most rewarding when we, the audience, can be informed, inspired, and uplifted while being entertained. PlayMakers Repertory Company’s PRC2 presentation of Highway 47 delivers on all counts. Written and performed by KJ Sanchez, and co-directed by Sanchez and Lisa Portes, Highway 47 is a multidimensional story of a woman, her family, her community, and a huge tract of land. Although Sanchez is the only actor onstage, the main character in this play is the land.
The play informs us by telling a little-known bit of American history: In 1734, the King of Spain granted this tract of 250,000 acres in what was to become New Mexico to 34 families. They founded the town of Tome, where they settled and shared the arid land “equally.” But some were “more equal” than others, and the richer cattlemen who used the land to graze their herds let greed, ruthlessness, and animosity divide the community.
Thirty years of legal maneuvering, lawsuits, appeals, and more lawsuits resulted in staggering financial and personal losses for everybody involved. At the same time, however, the play teaches Triangle audiences about courage and integrity. With a few unexpected twists KJ Sanchez’s story inspires us to reflect on our own stories.
Sanchez was the youngest in a family of 12 children. In addition to the story of the land, we get a sketch of her life, the lives of her family, and the life of the community. Sanchez tells her story vividly, with personal memories as well as information gleaned from newspaper articles, government archives, and legal documents. The production includes pictures projected on the backdrop and recorded music. Sanchez’s performance even includes some singing and some Mexican folk dance.
Although the story is an interesting one, KJ Sanchez tended to get ahead of herself in the telling. Her backtracking and correcting herself was distracting, as it reminded the audience that she was presenting a script — a script that she had written, of course. Since the play is intended to be a casual telling of her story, perhaps Sanchez should be less wedded to every line and instead focus on the essence of what made the play entertaining — it is her story, a great story, told by a very likable woman!
Scenic designer Tommer Peterson created a backdrop of huge pieces of parchment that represent the historical documents from which details of the story had been gleaned. Sound/lighting designer Zach Williamson enhanced our experience with appropriate music and lighting that subtly changes as Sanchez moves into different phases of the story.
All PRC2 performances are followed by an audience discussion. Interestingly, KJ Sanchez and PlayMakers Rep artistic associate and education manager Jenny Wales began Wednesday night’s talkback by pitching a few questions at the audience. Several members responded, and the result was an engaging discussion about family, heritage, and culture.
Highway 47 is a great maiden voyage for PlayMakers Rep’s new artistic director, Vivienne Benesch. Bravo!
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 7th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7774; Jan. 7th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with KJ Sanchez, conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: http://wunc.org/post/new-mexico-town-ripped-apart-along-highway-47#stream/0; Jan. 6th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Wood: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/highway-47/Event?oid=4802998; and Jan. 1st Chapel Hill, NC Chapelboro.com interview with KJ Sanchez, conducted by Aaron Keck: http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/highway-47-brings-family-drama-to-playmakers/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 6th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell and the Jan. 8th review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/01/in-prc2s-highway-47-kj-sanchez-turns-her-family-history-into-a-powerful-one-woman-show/ and http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/01/in-prc2s-highway-47-kj-sanchez-turns-her-family-history-into-a-powerful-one-woman-show/, respectively.)
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents HIGHWAY 47, written and performed by KJ Sanchez, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 8 and 9 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 10 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: Tickets start at $15. For single-ticket discounts, click https://playmakersrep.org/box-office/single-tickets/.
BOX OFFICE: 919-962-7529 or https://tickets.playmakersrep.org/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=9831.
GROUP RATES: 919-962-7529, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://playmakersrep.org/box-office/groups-and-special-events/.
SHOW: http://playmakersrep.org/show/highway-47/ and https://www.playmakersrep.org/kj-sanchez-brings-highway-47-to-prc%C2%B2/.
UNC NEWS RELEASE: http://uncnews.unc.edu/2015/12/15/playmakers-continues-prc2-series-with-kj-sanchez-in-highway-47/.
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.
PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE: After each performance, there will be a post-show discussion between the theater artists and selected subject-matter experts and the audience.
Highway 47 (2012 Chicago play): http://www.amrec.us/current-projects/2011/2/16/highway-47.html (American Records page).
KJ Sanchez (playwright and performer): http://www.amrec.us/about/ (American Records bio), http://www.playmakersrep.org/artists/kj-sanchez/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), and https://www.facebook.com/kj.sanchez.9 (Facebook page).
Lisa Portes (Chicago director): http://theatre.depaul.edu/about/faculty-and-staff/theatre-studies/Pages/lisa-portes.aspx (DePaul University faculty bio), http://www.playmakersrep.org/artists/lisa-portes/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), https://www.facebook.com/lisa.portes.3 (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/lportes67 (Twitter page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.