Courtesy of the pen of playwright Josefina Lopez, a right-wing-radio host named Lou Becker (think Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck) gets his just desserts in the desert. But that's only half the story of Lopez's Detained in the Desert, which makes an uncompromising statement about immigration, media and racial profiling. The latter hovers over the other half of the story, about a Latina victimized by the system because of her appearance. Loudmouth Becker (Charles Maze) and indignant Sandi Sanchez (Alix Mendoza) ultimately find themselves together in the Sonoran Desert—bruised, beaten, fried by the sun and haunted by the ghost of a migrant who did not survive.
That a one-act play this dense with drama triumphs is the result not only of Lopez's stinging script but also William Virchis' direction and the set design of John Iacovelli, which makes maximum use of La Jolla Playhouse's black-box Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre. Virchis calls the Teatro Máscara Mágica production more a "conversation piece" than a play, but there's plenty of action here, particularly in the kidnapping sequence, in which the three siblings of a hate-crime victim seek retribution against the hate-spewing Becker.
A soundtrack that simulates the spinning of a radio dial and the specter of flitting skeleton characters add to the atmosphere, and the Becker broadcast ravings that kick off the play set the tone for the tension and emotional heat to come. Detained in the Desert is an engrossing 75-minute sit. Its messages about injustice, racism and the insanity of walls between peoples (and of right-wing broadcasters) never let up, rather like the unrelenting desert sun. But the answer to that migrant ghost's tortured cry from beyond the grave brings tender and much-needed catharsis.
In addition to Maze and Mendoza, who anchor the two-pronged story, Dave Rivas delivers an earnest and likable performance as the modestly heroic Enrique Martinez, and Elisa Gonzales is heart-rending in the brief but significant role of Milagros, another spectral figure, whom Sandi meets in a detention cell. Kudos to Arizona, too, for coming off as one truly messed-up state.
Detained in the Desert runs through Sept. 15 at La Jolla Playhouse's Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre. $10-$25. teatromascaramagica.org
A Weekend with Pablo Picasso: Herbert Siguenza brings the legendary modern artist back to life in a one-man show. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it opens Sept. 7 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
Lettice and Lovage: A woman gets sacked from her job leading tours of a boring 16th-century English hall for making up fascinating stories about it and later sparks up a friendship with the woman who fired her. Opens Sept. 7 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Man with a Load of Mischief: In this musical period piece, a lord, a lady and their two servants entangle themselves in a mess of seduction and deception while stranded at an inn in the English countryside. Opens Sept. 4 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Shining City: Ion Theatre starts its eight season with the San Diego premiere of a story about two men, a widower and his therapist, both trying to sort out their lives' trajectories. This one opened Aug. 31 at BLKBLOX Theatre in Hillcrest, but we neglected to include it in last week's listings. Sorry! iontheatre.com
Young Frankenstein: In the musical-theater version of the 1974 Mel Brooks comedy, the grandson of the late Dr. Frankenstein travels to Transylvania Heights to attend to property issues and ends up staying to take over the family business. Through Sept. 7 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. moonlightstage.com
Detained in the Desert: Parallel stories about a second-generation Latina-American and a right-wing-radio host propel this tense one-act drama that comments on immigration, the media and racial profiling. Presented by Teatro Máscara Mágica, it runs through Sept. 15 at La Jolla Playhouse. teatromascaramagica.org
The 39 Steps: A comedic, four-actor stage version of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, as if performed by Monty Python, with lots of allusions to other Hitchcock classics. Through Sept. 22 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
Almost, Maine: A bunch of short plays about relationships in a mythical Northeast town. Through Sept. 22 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
The Tempest: Shakespeare's oft-performed play about a wizard who inhabits a Mediterranean island. Through Sept. 22 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead: Tom Stoppard's existentialist play turns two minor characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet into lead characters. Through Sept. 26 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
The Merchant of Venice: Shakespeare's play, about a man who borrows money to court a woman, gave us the terms "shylock" and "a pound of flesh." Through Sept. 28 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Greek forest is alive with fairies, magic potions and the pursuit of love in the opener of The Old Globe's summer Shakespeare Festival. Through Sept. 29 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Marry Me a Little: This one—which takes songs from other Stephen Sondheim musicals and places them in a story about two lonely young New Yorkers—was inserted into Diversionary Theatre's current season to commemorate the recent Supreme Court decisions in favor of marriage equality. The production alternates the characters—two men, two women, one man and one woman—so choose a performance accordingly. Through Sept. 29 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Sept. 29 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net