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RED BANK: A SIXTH ANNUAL ‘CROSSING’

flamenco_dancers-8248090The outdoor plaza at Two River Theater comes alive on Wednesday evening with a colorful keynote to the Crossing Borders Festival, the annual free celebration of Latino theater curated by Stephanie Ybarra (below).

stephanie-ybarra-5003956It’s become an eagerly anticipated annual feature of the programming from Two River Theater; a celebration of cultural diversity and connections that occurs on the border between the professional company’s mainstage seasons — and on a street named Bridge Avenue, no less.

Even as issues of national identity and immigration have been forced to the front once more during a superheated election-year summer, the frontiers represented by the Crossing Borders Festival go beyond mere lines on maps. Returning for a sixth annual edition this week, the five-day celebration of emerging Latino theater examines the barriers, access points and grey areas between heritage and assimilation; reality and fantasy; the pull of memory and the need to move on.

Kicking off with the now-traditional outdoor Neighborhood Party on Wednesday, August 3 — and continuing through Sunday, August 7 with a menu of play readings (one of them presented in both English and Spanish), lectures and audience forums — the festival maintains its mission of “bringing together writers and stories from all over the country to explore questions of individual and national identity, and what it means to be a part of the Latino diaspora,” in the words of guest curator Stephanie Ybarra.

A veteran of NYC’s Public Theater (where she serves as Director of Special Artistic Projects, leads the company’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit, and produces the Public Forum series), the native of San Antonio, TX previously did duty as casting director for past Crossing Borders events. As first-time curator, she’ll be taking on a recently minted summertime tradition that keynotes with Wednesday’s 5 p.m. party on the patio of Two River’s branded Bridge Avenue arts center — a free public-welcome affair that boasts live music, dancing, food from local restaurants, and a chance to meet the artists behind this year’s featured plays.

From there, the action moves inside the theater’s Mastrobuono Library for a 7 p.m. lecture by writer, critic and educator Brian Herrera, author of the award winning “Latin Numbers: Playing Latino in Twentieth-Century U.S. Popular Performance.”

Actress turned playwright Melinda Lopez takes the spotlight on Thursday, August 4 with her solo piece “Mala.” Directed by David Dower — and based on the last months of the Lopez’s Cuban-American mother — the 7:30 p.m. performance (inside the theater’s “black box” Marion Huber space) examines the universal “heartbreak and complications of becoming the caregiver to a parent who is losing herself.”

The lure of starring in one’s own heroic story — and the harsher realities of making a living in the real world — come to the fore on Friday, August 5 with “El Coquí Espectacular and the Bottle of Doom,” a satirical study (by Brooklyn-based actor and playwright Matt Barbot) of a Puerto Rican comic book creator whose crisis of conscience over making advertising aimed at the Latino market is balanced by his double-life desire to dress up as his own superhero character.

Los Angeles-based Bernardo Cubria contributes Saturday’s spotlighted script “Neighbors,” in which a couple of guys-next-door named Joe and Jose enter into an alliance that’s complicated by the have/have-not nature of their respective lives. Lou Moreno directs the play that will be performed in English at 3 p.m., and in Spanish at 7:30 p.m. (an audience talk-back with artists from the festival will follow the afternoon performance).

At 3 p.m. on Sunday, 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 projects have included the HBO series “Girls.” The life of a Mexican-American TV scripter is at the center of Saracho’s “Fade,” in which writer Lucia finds herself situated between the high-pressure environment of the workplace, and the unexpected effects of her friendship with a janitor named Abel. The closing entry of the 2016 festival is directed by another Crossing Borders veteran — Jerry Ruiz, who curated all previous editions of the annual happening.

There’s no charge to attend any of the events in the 2016 Crossing Borders Festival, but reservations are recommended for each of the play readings, as well as the Wednesday evening party. Call the box office at (732)345-1400, or take it here to RSVP.

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