RED BANK: A SEVENTH ‘CROSSING’ ON BRIDGE

The outdoor plaza at Two River Theater is the scene of a public-welcome patio party on Wednesday evening, as the seventh annual Crossing Borders Festival arrives for a five-day stand.

At the very least, it’s a bridge between the borders of one mainstage season and the next at Two River Theater — a summertime transition that even takes place on a street named Bridge Avenue.

Of course, the name Crossing Borders (or Cruzando Fronteras) carries with it connotations of those walled obstacles, points of access, and grey areas between heritage and assimilation — to say nothing of reality and fantasy, or past and future. And when the five-day Crossing Borders Festival comes to the Red Bank venue this week for its seventh annual celebration of contemporary “Latinx” theater (more on that in a moment), it will continue its mission of bringing such themes to the forefront, here in a socio-political landscape where they remain as hot-button an issue as ever — while endeavoring to break down the barriers of language and cost for the local audience.Flamenco dancers at a past edition of the Crossing Borders Festival. (Click to enlarge)

Beginning with a public-welcome patio party and keynote address on the evening of Wednesday, August 2,   the 2017 festival continues with readings of five new plays (as well as opportunities to meet and converse with the actors, authors and directors) between Thursday, August 3 and Sunday, August 6. All plays are presented inside the “black box” Marion Huber performance space at Two River — and, as has been the case from the start, all events on the schedule are presented completely free of charge.

Returning for a second year as festival programming curator is Stephanie Ybarra, a young veteran of NYC’s esteemed Public Theater (where she serves as Director of Special Artistic Projects, leads the company’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit, and produces the Public Forum series) who previously served as casting director for earlier editions of Crossing Borders. The native of San Antonio, Texas will be overseeing an event that features the participation of several new faces — among them Jacob G. Padrón, founder of the theatrical collective The Sol Project and designated deliverer of this year’s festival keynote.

Padrón will lead a discussion of “the rising generation of Latinx artists and where Latinx theater is headed” — the gender-neutral and slightly controversial “Latinx” representing the terminology of choice for the acclaimed artistic director — at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the theater’s upstairs library. Before all that, however, the open-air Edmund Wilson Plaza area on the north side of the building will be hosting the latest in a series of Neighborhood Party kickoffs — a 5:30 p.m. affair that boasts live music by David Oquendo, dancing, food from local restaurants, and a chance to meet the artists.

Two River regulars can vouch that the Crossing Borders slate has served as a spawing ground for several of the company’s mainstage offerings, among them Pinkolandia and the forthcoming January 2018 premiere of Matt Barbot’s satirical El Coquí Espectacular and the Bottle of Doom. This year’s featured works begin at 7:30 p.m. on August 3, when Michelle Bossy directs Raul Garza’s EL, a tale of two Chicago siblings — a hopeful novelist, and a frustrated butcher — “caught between the past and the future” in a comic mditation on buried memories and the ever-painful truth.

At 7:30 p.m. on Friday, August 4, Benjamin Benne’s At the Very Bottom of a Body of Water takes a detour “into surreal territory,” as a solitary woman who’s haunted by the spirit of her dead daughter is forced by unforeseen circumstances to confront her ghosts in a place “where paper cranes take flight, the sky and sea are inverted, and travel to the ocean floor is possible.”

The festival’s first-ever offering for young theatergoers is showcased at 12 p.m. on Saturday, August 5, when Blancaflor brings Cecilia Cackley’s adaptation of a traditional fairytale (of a prince’s quest to save his father, and the mysterious lady who comes to his aid) to bi-lingual life in a Spanish language translation by Ártemis López.

Two cataclysms of nature — the 1990s devastation wrought by Hurricane Andrew, and the ever-increasing threat represented by rising sea levels — bracket Charise Castro Smith’s family drama El Huracán, directed by Pironne Yousefzadeh and performed at 7:30 p.m. on August 5.

The 2017 festival closes out at 3 p.m. on August 6 with something new to the Crossing Borders stage — a musical, entitled The Golem of Havana. Featuring songs by Salomon Lerner and Ben Schiff, plus book and direction by Michel Hausmann, the show broadens the scope of the festival’s traditional subject matter by examining a family of Hungarian-Jewish immigrants who have settled in Cuba on the threshold of Castro’s revolution — a time during which the new arrivals must make some hard and fast choices on cultural identity and personal loyalty.

There’s no charge to attend any of the events in the 2017 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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