BWW Review: 17 BORDER CROSSINGS ~ GO ALONG ON ONE MAN'S JOURNEY AROUND THE GLOBE at The Broad Stage
Thaddeus Phillips, an internationally acclaimed Theater Director/Designer, and the Creator, Performer and Scenic Designer of his one-man show entitled "17 Border Crossings," has created a vividly imaginative journey on stage, based on his own intercontinental travelings. Directed by Tatiana Mallarino, the California premiere, after playing in New York, Moscow and Hong Kong to sold out crowds, taxied in to Santa Monica at the Broad Stage, for a two-night run, January 24th and 25th, 2020.
Covering 17 border crossings, and thirty separate scenes, most set during the communist era, step-by-step he conveys the differences, the similarities, the uniqueness, the ridiculousness and the foibles of this tedious but necessary drill and safety precaution. We ride along with him, as he cleverly and minimally uses props and scenery to illustrate the surroundings and the ambience at each stop.
He creates a believable environment with each crossing, in a running monologue that emanates from him sitting in a red chair, at a table holding a single microphone.
The first border we come to is Hungary and Serbia, and he, first animatedly quoting Shakespeare's King Henry V, tells us the story, origination and development of the "passport." Originally produced on parchment paper, with French as the official language, it certainly has gone through many changes. Our passport today, with it's ID chip, has evolved into a futuristically capable means of personal identification.
As we near the border, Thaddeus pulls down from the rafters a simulated railroad track (In actuality, it's part of the lighting system; a row of lights which is lowered down). Once we embark with him on this trip, everything becomes something else.
A Hungarian inspector comes on board to collect an "extra" $200 to successfully pass through, and a Serbian man gets aboard, dragging five plastic suitcases stuck together with bubble wrap, sitting in the next compartment over, and proceeds to throw them, one by one, out the window of the train. Next we see headlights of a car in the distance that comes to pick them up, and back on board, the Serbian police question the passengers, settling on the "American" as the suspect. The first mysterious development...
The many scenarios (17) that follow involve smuggling KFC out of Egypt, hiding in a wheel well of a British Airways plane to cross the border from Mexico to the U.S. carrying two valuable sim cards, crossing the Adriatic Sea on a ferry with some interesting ferry-mates, visiting a disco-blasting brothel, jumping off a Turkish bridge as grenades and bombs explode, trudging through the Jordanian desert, paying additional "entrance" fees at every turn, hiding treasures in the sand at a beach in Malaga, Spain, on to Holland, then France, where he explores the "red light" district, and on to Amsterdam, where, surprisingly enough, the French Quarter police are the most trying, as they make him go with them to a small room, grill him relentlessly, make him disrobe, and strip search his body before allowing him to enter the country... Go figure.
Again, at the Moroccan/Columbian border, the authorities bring him to another "small room," dismantle his luggage, and give him a pretty hard time. Riding a chairlift in Austria to enter Germany, skateboarding through a tunnel between Egypt and Palestine as strobe lights flash, paying more "fees" all along the way to middlemen, he has been put through the ringer at each turn.
When he eventually lands in Newark, New Jersey, though, thinking "ah, home at last," he is again met with suspicions by the authorities, He's taken to yet another small, isolated room, where they confiscate his cell phone and passport and tell him to "Wait there." Seems he broke a U.S. Federal law by traveling from Montreal to Cuba.
Onward, to the Singapore/Indonesian border where he visits a Hindu temple and meets up with a new friend standing on yet another passport line, behind an affable Australian surfer, where for the umpteenth time he is again brought to a room alone and given some kind of hallucinogen and then questioned about all the borders he has crossed that aren't on the approved "list." This particular scene takes place in 2005, and he was being vehemently questioned about Yugoslavia/Croatia, which do not exist nowadays, all the while hallucinating. Whatever was on his passport, they wanted to know why. With lighting effects and clever usage of simple props he had us hallucinating with him!
Next thing we know, he's being deported to Singapore by way of the London/Angola Border! The adventures go on to other borders, each scene a different place on the map in time, and not in any chronological order, but the way he has seamlessly woven all of the crossings together, points out both the differences and changes, and the same-old, same-old way of doing things no matter what era or country.
The Lighting and Sound Design, by David Rodaro and Robert Kaplowitz, respectively, are 100% in tune with each movement, each scenario and every effect needed.
The show runs about an hour-and-a-half with no intermission, which enhanced the flow of one crossing to the next and everything fitting interestingly together at the end, tying up some loose ends and hinting of what the future borders might be like. How he gets back, again, to the last crossing, the U. S./Mexican border, the perils and excitement he experiences are almost unbelievable, but they are his stories and he has a unique and fascinating way of telling them.
His talk-back after the show was interesting, as to how he assembled the show, using improv, borrowing characters from other plays he'd directed, and the extensive traveling he did starting at age 18.
Photo credits Johanna Austin and Randall Ortega Chavez.