Review | LA RUTA at Steppenwolf

Review | LA RUTA at Steppenwolf

Pictured (front, left to right): Isabella Gerasole (Women of Juarez), Sandra Delgado (Yoli) and Alice da Cunha (Women of Juarez); (rear) Mari Marroquin (Zaide), Cher Álvarez (Brenda), Charín Alvarez (Marisela), Karen Rodriguez (Ivonne) and Laura Crotte (Desamaya). Photo by Michael Brosilow.

By Sheri Flanders

Named for the bus route that runs in Juarez, Mexico, La Ruta peers into the lives of women working under the terrifying threat of kidnapping. Based on the stories of real lives, playwright Isaac Gomez works in tandem with director Sandra Marquez to poignantly paint a wrenching testimony to that which we do not often tender our attention, yet should.

La Maquila, (the factory), is the end destination of La Ruta, and for the lives of many women, metaphorically and literally. This powerhouse all-female cast of eight Latinx actors recreate the easy camaraderie of working-class women trapped in dead-end jobs, yet continue to defiantly live vibrant lives. We enter their world through the trusting eyes of young Brenda (a sparkling Cher Alvarez), who learns to move as quickly and mechanically as a machine to avoid facing the foreman’s wrath.

Despite the grueling work, the women punctuate their toil with laughter rooted in joy, and songs (led by a haunting Laura Crotte) as they sew. The foot pedal movements (or lack thereof) reveal that some actors have real experience with a sewing machine – a lovely visual gem. The rather naïve Brenda makes fast friends with the rambunctious and worldly Ivonne, (Karen Rodriguez) changing her life inexorably. Rodriguez brings complexity, tenderness, and compassion to a role that could have easily been flattened to stereotype.

Yoli and Marisela (Sandra Delgado and Charin Alvarez respectively) ground the story as close friends and grieving mothers, counterbalancing each other as two sides of the same coin. As they struggle to cope, the story asks: how does one rationally deal with heartbreak and overwhelming pain? Hope in the face of futility can be self-preservation and denial, and acceptance brings action and terrifying consequences.

Though the story occasionally misses some connective tissue, La Ruta teaches us that prayer is a verb. It salutes the bravery of humble women who face death and look him in the eyes with steely defiance. For in Juarez, as it is for many women globally, death absolutely arrives as a “him,” creating agonizing, excruciating monstrosities. The impotent rage of women alone and in pain is nearly unbearable to witness, yet witness it we must — until we are moved to help carry the burden.

The story is too much to hold in one heart. La Ruta will break yours.

“La Ruta” plays at Steppenwolf Theatre through January 27th.

About author

Sheri Flanders

Sheri Flanders is an actor, writer and comedian in Chicago. She is head writer for Choice The Musical, half of the comedy duo Flanders and part of the Infinite Sundaes musical house ensemble. Sheri is a contributor for Chicagoland Musical Theater, a faculty member of the Second City music program and co-owner of Flanders Consulting.