It took nearly a decade of planning to bring eXtras, a lively Mexican adaptation of an acclaimed Irish play, to the Rubicon Theatre stage. But as it turned out, its arrival was perfectly timed. The work playfully addresses controversies currently dominating both the political columns (Mexican immigration) and the arts pages (cultural appropriation), presenting an outsider’s perspective we don’t often hear. In addition, it’s highly entertaining: often hilarious, occasionally poignant, and pointed without being preachy.
The play’s backstory is a bit complicated. In 1996, Marie Jones wrote Stones in His Pockets, a tragicomedy about how the residents of a small Irish town are impacted when a Hollywood film crew arrives to shoot a movie. In 2003, Mexican playwright Sabina Berman created an adaptation in which the setting was changed to a small Mexican village. For this production, she made additional alterations, changing the location to the California side of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The film being shot sounds ridiculous — the story of a clash between Mexican natives and Mormon settlers that ends happily when a wedding unites the two communities. The play’s two central characters, who work as extras for $50 per day, find it absurd. But otherwise, Charlie Colon and Jose Rodriguez — both undocumented Mexican immigrants living in the U.S.— have little in common. Jose has a fatalistic attitude (and a need for cash), while Charlie has embraced his new nation’s optimistic spirit. He has written a screenplay, and he naively views this gig as an opportunity to get it into the right hands.
Brothers Bruno and Odiseo Bichir play Charlie, Jose, and all the other characters, including the culturally clueless British director and the glamorous Latina actress who stars in the film. (Far removed from her roots, she seduces Jose, primarily so she can try to mimic his accent.) Both men are superb, switching effortlessly from portraying one character to another with nothing but a change in headgear. The actors’ heavy accents and regular use of Spanish words and phrases take some getting used to, but with the help of Maya Burns’s fine original score, I was fully engaged within 10 minutes.
Bruno Bichir (who also directed) is a truly gifted physical comedian. His antics provide a comical counterpoint to the more serious discussions of whether Mexican immigrants to the U.S. are being exploited, given an extraordinary opportunity, or both.
eXtras plays through May 1, at the Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura. Call (805) 667-2900 or see rubicontheatre.org.