Highway 47, which just finished its all-too-brief run as part of Playmakers Repertory Company’s second stage series, PRC², is a deeply personal story written and performed by KJ Sanchez. The story, which Sanchez says her mother asked her to tell…but not until after she was gone, is part family history and part…well…history history. Sanchez focuses much of her tale on her hometown, Tome, New Mexico and its experiences with the land grant of 1734…and her father’s long and somewhat troubled history and involvement with that land grant.
Despite the often-somber themes of the play, Sanchez proves herself to be a likeable storyteller right from the start. With her easygoing, conversational nature and her constant energy, Sanchez is easy to watch, even when the things she’s talking about are hard to hear.
Her skill as a storyteller, along with perfectly-timed music, minimal but cleverly used props to add visual interest, and the use of projected photographs work together to make the show flow smoothly. One story segues neatly into the next in this fast-moving piece.
And speaking of stories, Sanchez recalls many in this 90 minute self-exploration. She discusses what it was like to be a “new Mexican,” cleverly explaining that, “we never crossed a border. A border crossed us.” She makes brief but hard-hitting mentions of her family’s forced Americanization- subtly mentioning names that grow more and more American and tales of language shaming.
The stories that matter most, however, are those about Sanchez’ own father, Gilly Sanchez. He was a man who led a public crusade, bought up shares of land for his people, and even ran for office, a man ahead of his time. What starts as the story of a hero, however, eventually devolves into the story of a greedy, out-for-himself villain who turns against his people…maybe. There are no easy answers in Sanchez’ script, and while that’s perhaps the most frustrating thing about this play, it couldn’t be any other way. The answers Sanchez doesn’t provide are simply answers that she doesn’t have.
And that- the answers that don’t exist- are at the heart of this emotional one-woman show. It’s as much a story about Sanchez’ father as it is a story about her relationship with him, her struggle to understand him, her yearning to know more. It’s a story about a life and about relationships- Sanchez’ relationships with her culture, her past, her parents, and above all else, herself. That makes it a story that everyone can relate to and certainly one that’s worth a watch.