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In the past eleven years some 400 young women and girls, almost all of them impoverished factory workers, have been murdered in Ciudad Juárez, an industrial town on the Mexican border. The local government has done painfully little to find justice for these women, and even publicly blamed the victims themselves for their fates: "It's very hard to go out on the street when it's raining and not get wet," Arturo González Rascon, the attorney general of the Mexican state of Chihuahua, has reportedly said. This quote is put to great dramatic effect in Voices of Juárez, a new one-woman play written and performed by twenty-year-old Yale undergrad Kristen Faye Hunter that is receiving its premiere at the New York Fringe Festival. The fury in Hunter's voice as she repeats the horrifying words, and analyzes their inherent message, make for one of the most powerful moments in this ambitious new drama.

Surrounded by a circle of bloody clothes representing many victims of sex-based violence, Hunter becomes every person in the life of seventeen-year-old Lidia González, a poor Mexican girl forced by circumstance to work under intolerable conditions at a Juárez factory. Despite her intelligence and the many safety precautions she takes, Lidia cannot beat the patriarchal, macho system, and soon becomes a tragic statistic. Told as a flashback from beyond the grave, Lidia's story is frightening, vivid and enraging.

That is, when it works. Unfortunately, for all its ambition and earnestness, the play is rather uneven, mostly in terms of acting. The greatest strength and weakness in this production is Hunter's decision to play every role herself. It's a risk. This is not, after all, a monologue; this is a full-length, linear, multi-charactered play, albeit performed by a single actor. And Hunter, as an actress, does show promise. She is able to change her voice and body language enough to make almost every character distinct, and her split-second transformations are truly remarkable to behold. Unfortunately, she is not yet a strong enough actress to pull off all of these roles, and when her performance falters, the spell is broken, and the play becomes a stunt. Her impersonations of men, particularly the more macho ones, are painfully stereotypical and cliched, and distract from the overall power of the play. With a few other actors to double up and play the some of other roles, the audience could focus more on the very worthy story instead on the novelty of one performer taking on many roles.

Aole T. Miller's direction is sharp and direct, allowing the strengths of Hunter's script and performance to shine through. Particularly memorable is a scene played almost entirely in a blackout, letting us imagine the horrors that we cannot see in the darkness. It gives us a small taste of the ever-present fear that darkens the lives of the women of Juárez. The single flashlight that shines into the audience during this scene prevents our eyes from adjusting to the dark and becoming accustomed to the conditions– a very nice touch that resonates with the incendiary theme of the play.

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From This Author Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox is a lifelong theatre addict who has worked as an actress, a singer, a playwright, a director, a lyricist, a librettist, and (read more...)

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