Flamenco_DancersFlamenco dancers, live music and samplings from area restaurants are on hand outside Two River Theater during Thursday’s pre-party for Crossing Borders, the annual festival of new Latino plays curated by Jerry Ruiz (below).

Jerry_Ruiz“It’s this big, impressive, kind of intimidating space,” is how Jerry Ruiz describes Bridge Avenue’s Two River Theater, where the annual Crossing Borders Festival goes up this week. “You can understand how someone in the community might walk by and think, that’s not for me.”

“Well, with Crossing Borders, by removing the cost barrier, removing that language barrier, we let them know that this theater is their space, too.”

Beginning this Thursday, and for the fourth consecutive summer, Two River Theater Company presages the start of their new season by hosting a four-day event showcasing the talents of the nation’s most dynamic Latino playwrights, actors and directors. As curator of the festival since its inception, NYC-based director Ruiz has once again assembled a program that’s drawn “a pretty diverse, local crowd…it’s about creating a new audience, by building a bridge to a community.”

Having played a major role in developing one of last season’s mainstage productions from TRTC (Pinkolandia), it’s a slate of new works-in-progress that share “forceful Latina protagonists…strong Latin women that defy and shatter stereotypes, make bold decisions, and determine their own destinies.”

Running August 14 through 17,  the festival launches with a 5:30 pm outdoor party on Thursday evening, offering up food from local restaurants — along with music, dancing and a chance to meet the artists behind this year’s featured plays — all in the plaza outside the Two River building. From there, the action moves indoors for a slate of dramas and comedies — a couple of them brought to you by the creative people behind some buzzed-about TV series — all read by professional casts, and with one show presented in both English and Spanish.

A veteran of previous Crossing Borders fests — actor Raúl Castillo — returns to Red Bank on Thursday night, this time as playwright, with the co-star of HBO’s Looking on hand to present his script Between You, Me and the Lampshade at 7:30 pm. Felix Solis directs the drama of two women — a “tough and independent” South Texas trailer park denizen, and the wounded undocumented alien who she shelters in her closet — even as she “has to go to increasingly complicated lengths to hide her secret from the various people in her life, including a border protection agent with a crush and her web-addicted teenage son.”

The mood lightens on Friday, August 15 with the first of two performances of a script that Ruiz characterizes as “a fun play, with likable characters” — Maria Alexandria Beech’s Good Friends, in which a mother-daughter duo on Manhattan’s Upper West Side get to know their building neighbors, and “see if they can navigate the transition from merely being people who live near each other to being friends.” The reading will be performed in English at 7:30 pm Friday, and en Español at 3 pm on Sunday, August 17.

At 3 pm on Saturday, Crossing Borders welcomes back a playwright who’s been an integral part of the festival from the start — Tanya Saracho, the Chicago-based writer whose current projects include the hit HBO series Girls. Saracho, who’s been commissioned by TRTC to develop an original work set in the Latino community of Red Bank, contributes Mala Hierba, in which “the beautiful trophy wife of a rich and powerful man…must find the balance between happiness, comfort, and survival,” when an old friend reappears to offer a different path.

Jerry Ruiz directs the reading of Mala Hierba, as well as Saturday’s 7:30 pm event from playwright Hillary Bettis: The Ghosts of Lote Bravo. Set in Juarez, Mexico — where hundreds of women have disappeared or been murdered in the past 20 years — the drama follows an anguished mother of a missing woman who “sacrifices more and more to La Santa Muerte, the saint of death, to look into her daughter’s past.”

There’s no charge to attend any of the events in the 2014 Crossing Borders Festival, but reservations are recommended for each of the play readings, as well as the Thursday evening party. Call the box office at (732)345-1400, or take it here to RSVP.