To put a reasoned, compassionate face on the immigration issue, you can do no better than to take in “Intringulis,” a world premiere co-production by two piping-hot theater companies, Gotham’s LAByrinth and L.A.’s Elephant. Carlo Alban’s autobiographical monodrama tells of an Ecuadorian boy who landed in New Jersey on a late-1980s tourist visa, and stayed on to appear as a “Sesame Street” regular through a decade’s worth of struggle for resident legitimacy. It’s a moving narrative, and not incidentally a splendid showcase for a breakout thesp who bears close watching.
Displaying something of the young Kenneth Branagh’s bantam rooster playfulness, Alban occupies the Lillian Theater stage as if he’d been assigned the lease. He grins and lowers, prowls and climbs, letting us in on a lifetime of hurt experienced by a family arriving in America with, as he avers, “a suitcase full of fear.”
Yet there’s not an ounce of self-pity to be found here, thesp maintaining audience sympathy by refusing to play to it. Sentimentality is restricted to a series of reflective ballads — Spanish/English lyrics projected upstage — penned by Latin America’s Dylans and Baezes and performed on guitar in fine, soulful voice.
Otherwise, Alban seems simply to be saying, “Here’s how my story shaped me; now make of it what you will.”
Given his TV exposure, the ordinariness of his upbringing comes as something of a surprise. The quarrels with the ‘rents, casual pot smoking, drinking games and punk jam sessions are what you’d associate with any other well-adjusted, urban American kid hanging out on the stoop with buddies, and he reenacts it all with matter-of-fact grace and an exceptional mimicry gift.
But then a classmate, learning of Carlo’s undocumented status, hits him between the eyes with a calm “Get out of my country,” and you’re suddenly torn up by the alien’s pain, rooted in constant anticipation of discovery and the awareness of second-class status. “I was illegal,” he chillingly declares, “and it still felt awful.”
An even more profound emotional rush comes by way of two older brothers. One is threatened with deportation when the rest of the family becomes naturalized; the other, originally left behind in Ecuador, visits the U.S. with a degree in human rights law but is quickly reduced to manual labor. Alban narrates both stories with the same pitiless directness he brings to his own tale, allowing us to absorb the men’s humiliations and walk in their shoes for a while.
Helmer David Arzuelo steers the actor-writer into unforced visual and vocal variety, with only a few slack moments midway.
Alban’s 11 performances alternate in the same space with the West Coast premiere of LAByrinth star Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “The Little Flower of East Orange.”