Born outside the USA


Back in Italy, this gesture might mean “What were you thinking?”

Back in Italy, this gesture might mean “What were you thinking?”

Photo by Barry Wisdom

Immigrants, 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; $20. Genesis Productions at the William J. Geery Theater, 2130 L Street; (916) 821-0932; Through April 6.
Rated 3.0

An original work by Sacramento playwright Alan Truax, Immigrants is a promising debut for fledgling company Genesis Productions. Leo McElroy, a two-time Elly Award winner for original plays, directs.

Immigrants is the story of two families who migrated to the hills around Sonoma and Napa counties, bringing with them the skills necessary to tend the vineyards and make the wine for which California has become famous. Separated by nearly a century, their struggles as immigrants resonate across the years, based as they are in actual accounts of people's lives—Truax used material from When the Rivers Ran Red, Vivienne Sosnowski's account of wine country during Prohibition, and the case of Los Angeles veteran Ekaterine Bautista as his source.

The Scoletti family, headed by patriarch Urbano (Mark Hoffman), has built a small independent vineyard from hard work and frugal living. In 1922, it's threatened by the impending enforcement of Prohibition—and by a particularly xenophobic, corrupt Volstead Act enforcement agent (Dennis Gunvalson). In 2008, Mexican immigrant Luiz Mendoza (Daryl Petrig) is tending the vines, now owned by someone else, and his daughter, Maria (Wendy L. Bosley), returned from service in Iraq, is seeking citizenship. Her application is threatened by a disturbed Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer (also played by Hoffman).

By doubling actors, the sense of resonance in the two stories is amplified, assisted as well with some almost-too-convenient plot twists. The actors perform admirably—especially Hoffman and Petrig, with a nice turn by Ashley Lucas as the 21st-century immigration lawyer. The accents for the Italian immigrant family are a bit overdone—almost comical—but otherwise, the work is solid.

As a play, Immigrants suffers from one flaw: a tendency to push for the most dramatic stage action to resolve the narrative rather than allow the ambiguity of reality to intrude. This leads to a TV-movie feel that undercuts the power of the play's theme.