Imagine the task of translating T.C. Boyle’s sprawling novel “The Tortilla Curtain” into a one-act piece of theater. Playwright Matthew Spangler was up to the challenge. The result is a world-premiere production at the San Diego Rep, directed by Sam Woodhouse. Boyle recounts the intersection of the lives of privileged Topanga Canyonites and undocumented Mexican immigrants desperate for the promises of American soil. They’re personified by environmentalist Delaney Mossbacher (Mike Sears) and his real-estate-agent wife, Kyra (Lisel Gorell-Getz), and furtive immigrants Candido Rincon (Kinan Valdez) and his pregnant girlfriend America (obvious irony). Delaney’s hitting Candido with his car at the start of the play lights a deadly fuse of paranoia, bigotry and violence.
It’s all compressed into a 90-minute production that also includes a raging fire and roaring landslide. Mike Sears, hilarious in Cygnet Theatre’s A Behanding in Spokane, achieves a dark transformation here as Delaney, but Tortilla Curtain’s most nuanced performance is given by Vivia Font as America, who makes us feel the young woman’s every innocent joy and searing pain. If her mid-show rap sequence feels contrived, it’s not because Font isn’t up to it.
Tortilla Curtain fences at many foes, some born of fate, others being humanity at its worst. There are periods of overload and over-preaching, but our border city is a fitting locale for this world premiere.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat