Written and Directed by Jeffrey Solomon
Produced by Houses on the Moon Theater Company
Off Off Broadway, Docu-Theatre
Runs through 12.22.17
Next Door at NYTW, 83 East 4th Street
by Rachel Lepore on 12.15.17
Camilo Almonacid, Manny Ureña, and Emily Joy Weiner in De Novo. Photo by Russ Rowland.
BOTTOM LINE: Heart-wrenching and important, De Novo shines a light on the pain of children seeking asylum in the United States.
Edgar Chocoy-Guzman (Manny Ureña) is an ex-gang member despite only being a young teenager. He has fled Guatemala after leaving his gang to avoid the hit they put out on his life, but the U.S. has not been kind to him either. After several run-ins with the law, Edgar has found himself in immigration detention, seeking asylum and desperate to turn his life around. The only alternative is being sent back to a certain death in Guatemala. Complicating the matter, however, is an unstable family life with a mother he has spent little time growing up with and a grossly unsympathetic legal system. Although the events of De Novo took place in the early 2000s, Edgar’s story rings just as loud and true today in our current political climate.
I cannot begin to say how thoroughly good the ensemble of De Novo is. Of the four, there is no weak link, and they are what makes this show so powerful and enjoyable. Camilo Almonacid is transformative as he embodies a wide array of experts, counselors, lawyers, friends, family, and gang members. Emily Joy Weiner brings the pain of Edgar’s lawyer as she fights to give this child a chance to the fore. Zuleyma Guevara inspires tears when she portrays Margarita, Edgar’s loving mother who struggles to help her son. Most commendable of all, however, is Ureña himself. He so perfectly captures the essence of this shy, bright-eyed but frustrated youth trapped in a judicial system in a foreign land that doesn’t have his best interests at heart. Ureña’s performance is heartbreaking in its honesty.
Design-wise, De Novo is simple but effective. Lawrence E. Moten III’s wall-length set of stacks of boxes help give an idea of the sheer amount of paperwork (and accompanying hours of labor) that goes into defending a child like Edgar. The stunning projected photos by Donna DeCesare, almost all featuring kids and young teenagers in gangs, force the audience to remember that not only is Edgar’s story a true one, but that it tragically applies to many, many more children throughout the U.S.
If there is any critique to level at De Novo, it is that this is not a story that is particularly unpredictable. Anyone with a television probably knows what is going to happen at each turn in Edgar’s life, something that takes away from the ability to feel true shock. But this predictability only adds to the beautiful difficulty of watching this true story unfold.
De Novo is a gripping reminder of what some people, especially the juveniles we often don’t see or think about, are going through every day in this country. It successfully humanizes a very big problem by telling us a single, simple story. It inspires.
(De Novo plays at Next Door at New York Theatre Workshop, 83 East 4th Street, through December 22, 2017. The running time is 70 minutes without an intermission. Performances are Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 3 and 7:30, and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $35 and available at nytw.org or by calling 866-811-4111.)
De Novo is written and directed by Jeffrey Solomon. Developed by Houses on the Moon Theater Company. Additional Development by Emily Weiner and Jose Aranda. Translation by Paola Poucel. Set Design by Lawrence E. Moten III. Costume Design by Genevieve V. Beller. Lighting Design by Christina Watanabe. Projected Images by Donna DeCesare. Original Music by Andrew Ingkavet. Props Design by Mikaela Hogan. Projections Design by Zachary Spitzer. Stage Manager is Jamie Rose Bukowski.
The cast is Camilo Almonacid, Zuleyma Guevara, Manny Ureña, and Emily Joy Weiner.