Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: A Family Is Separated By Immigration Policies in Hilary Bettis' 72 MILES TO GO...

If it were up to Billy, the sweet-natured Unitarian pastor who opens Hilary Bettis' 72 Miles to Go... speaking to audience members as if they were members of his Tucson, Arizona congregation, the play about his family would be one of those warm domestic comedies where the kids learn valuable life lessons guided by their wise, but somewhat goofy dad.

72 Miles to Go...
Jacqueline Guillén and Triney Sandoval
(Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

He sure tries making it so, always ready to try and lighten any situation with a (usually terrible) joke ("What do you call a fake noodle? An impasta.").

But Billy, played by Triney Sandoval with teddy bear appeal, is a Chicano man married to Anita (Maria Elena Ramirez), a Mexican woman he met while leaving out bottles of water in the desert for refugees after she and her young son fled, undocumented, across the border.

When the 90-minute play flashes back from his sermon in 2016 to his family's kitchen in 2008, their two teenage children, Aaron (Tyler Alvarez) and Eva (Jacqueline Guillén) are preparing for the first day of the new school year and mom wishes them well via cell phone, because she was recently deported to a center in Nogales, Mexico, 72 miles away, after being stopped by traffic police for a broken taillight.

Christian (Bobby Moreno), the child Anita took across the border, is now 23 and, with the necessary documentation not at hand, lives in fear that ICE will take him away before his DACA application can be approved.

In scenes spanning the next eight years we see typical moments from family life tinged with the frustration and fear derived from Anita's physical absence as she applies to have her status changed and Christian's uncertain future, even as he gets married and has children.

72 Miles to Go...
Bobby Moreno and Tyler Alvarez
(Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

Eva, who slips into the role of family caretaker, feels the absence of a woman to talk with when it comes to subjects like dating and prom night. She becomes class valedictorian and interrupts her planned graduation speech to improvise a plea for more compassionate immigration laws.

"We all have struggles. This, I think, is what it means to be human."

Aaron grows from a nerdy kid to a strong and mature marine, but on a visit home it seems his experiences during wartime have heightened feelings of abandonment. Christian develops increasing resentment towards his stepfather for actions that could have exposed him to immigration officials.

An especially touching episode has Billy, alone in the kitchen, setting up a romantic anniversary dinner as he shares intimate conversation with Anita via phone. As he dines on his mayo-drenched tuna dish and she takes in spoonfuls of SpaghettiOs, they tenderly speak of their loneliness, both emotional and physical, and devotion to each other.

Between every scene, projections inform us of how much time has passed, and as the action inches closer, but never reaches, 2017, the audience's awareness of the national events to come informs our understanding of their situation.

What is so effective about Bettis' play, which is subtly emphasized by Jo Bonney's straightforward direction, is how all the yelling and campaigning and debating over the issues at hand are boiled down to how national policies affect the unremarkable events for what would otherwise be a typical American family. It may be a bit of a cliché, but 72 MILES TO GO... simply asks us to consider the people behind the numbers.

Related Stories

From This Author - Michael Dale

Sunday Morning Michael Dale: Dear Funny Girl: Let Julie Benko Sing!
August 7, 2022

Like many theatre fans, I'd been reading the raves she's been getting as Beanie Feldstein's standby, and since I doubted press would be offered comps during her run, I sprung for a ticket to see for myself.

Sunday Morning Michael Dale: Alison Fraser Thrillingly Reinvents Cat On A Hot Tin Roof's Big Mama
July 31, 2022

A popular stage actor best known for being quirkily funny in musicals (Off-Broadway in March Of The Falsettos, on Broadway in Romance, Romance, The Secret Garden and Gypsy), Fraser reinvents a classic character and turns in a performance that thrills with its gutsy power masked by her character's well-rehearsed elegance.

Sunday Morning Michael Dale: All Singing! All Dancing! All Legal! Cannabis! A Viper Vaudeville Opens at La MaMa
July 24, 2022

A collaboration of two of Off-Off-Broadway's favorite historically subversive companies, the HERE production of Cannabis! A Viper Vaudeville, presented at La Mama is an entrancingly fun and educational two-hour festival of song, dance and spoken word, beginning as a relaxing communal experience and evolving into a call for activism.

Sunday Morning Michael Dale: Ukrainian Children Coming To Brooklyn in a Play They Premiered in a Bomb Shelter
July 17, 2022

Irondale is arranging for Ukrainian solider Oleg Onechchak's ensemble of child actors to give two performances in Brooklyn of Mom On Skype, which was originally performed in a warehouse-turned-bomb-shelter in the city of Lviv.

Sunday Morning Michael Dale: The Fire This Time Festival's 13th Year of Spotlighting Early-Career Playwrights From The African Diaspora
July 10, 2022

With a name lending new urgency to a rhyming couplet from the African-American spiritual 'Mary, Don't You Weep' ('God gave Noah the rainbow sign / No more water, the fire next time') the annual Fire This Time Festival has produced dozens of ten-minutes plays in its mission to 'provide a platform for early-career playwrights from the African diaspora to explore new directions for 21st century theater'.